Mexico fails to deliver in opener
Howls and jeers enveloped the stunned Mexican players as they trudged off the field at Estadio Azteca in the wake of a 0-0 draw with Jamaica Wednesday night.
If the irate fans in Mexico City could have revealed their displeasure in a more tangible way, they surely would have done so with some justification. Their heralded team stumbled out of the Hexagonal gate and threw away two expected points to a side perceived as the weakest in the group at the start of the day.
Those perceptions appear somewhat off base at the moment in the wake of this richly deserved draw for the visitors. Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore concocted the right approach and preached organization first and foremost. His players – including several of the fresh faces imported from England to bolster the World Cup chase – adhered to the instructions and performed admirably.
On another night, the Jamaicans may have emerged with a famous victory instead of a landmark draw. They produced the two best chances of the match and squandered them both. How Jobi McAnuff fired directly at Jesús Corona with the net gaping inside the first ten minutes and how Ryan Johnson tamely directed his one-versus-one effort into Corona’s arms in the second half remains somewhat of a mystery.
The reasons behind the result are more straightforward. Jamaica executed. Mexico did not.
For all of José Manuel de la Torre’s proclamations about taking Jamaica seriously prior to the match, Mexico displayed all of the characteristics of an overconfident team during this insipid display. This group apparently expected to stroll to a simple victory without performing the fundamental duties required to achieve it. Carelessness and wastefulness pervaded every aspect of this performance despite an overwhelming amount of possession. Instead of putting the visitors to the sword, the home side stroked the ball around and waited for the breakthrough that never arrived.
De la Torre must assume some of the responsibility for the complacency. He adopted the ill-fitting 4-4-2 formation yet again to shoehorn Oribe Peralta into the starting XI and shunted creative link Giovani dos Santos into a poorly conceived berth on the right flank. The tinkering left Javier Aquino – man of the match against Denmark and a natural winger in fine form at the moment – on the bench at the start, reduced the considerable advantage over the Jamaican fullbacks and yielded a rather static first half.
The ensuing and inevitable tactical shift at halftime did not solve the problems. Aquino replaced dos Santos in a straight swap to address the concern on the right and subsequently strip away any hope of engineering the necessary creativity in the middle. A modest revival shortly after the break – punctuated by two fine Donovan Ricketts saves from Héctor Herrera and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández – soon petered out due to defensive defiance and poor service from the fullbacks and the wide players.
Not even ‘Chicharito’ – once again starved of proper supply – could rescue his teammates in the waning stages this time, though he still attempted to conjure up his usual magic. Ricketts came out well to block his effort in second half stoppage time to quell Mexico’s last threat and send the home side sliding to a point that will ultimately feel like nothing at all.
And perhaps that feeling isn’t a bad one for Mexico to experience at this early juncture. This squad entered the Hexagonal as the heavy favorite to top the group. One home draw against Jamaica won’t alter that status or threaten the march to Brazil, but it does provide a painful reminder of the work still to do in the remaining nine matches.
The stalemate will also ratchet up the pressure on de la Torre and his players to meet the expressed standards and reassess their priorities. De la Torre must cater to the talent available to him and evaluate whether he needs to make alterations to his formation (a return to the 4-2-3-1 looks prudent) and his personnel (particularly at right back) to extract the best from this team. His players must adopt the Jamaicans’ intensity, take this harsh lesson to heart and understand that there are no easy games in the Hexagonal even with the talent available in their ranks.
Perhaps this momentary setback will pave the way for the expected response ahead of the difficult trip to San Pedro Sula next month. If not, then those fans – and many, many others on talk shows across the country – will provide their own reminder that failure simply isn’t an option.