Questions remain about Mexico
Stoppage time in Torreon, and with Mexico pushing for the tying goal, a cross from the left decends into the Brazil six. Shockingly, the Selecao find themselves up one, because although the team’s played well, they’ve been down a man and a goal for most of the match.
That goal came off of David Luiz, his wild kick at a Pablo Barrera cross beating Jefferson at the near post. With only minutes left in the match, Luiz calmly heads the cross over the bar, his control the reverse image of his 10th minute own goal.
It was hard to see Luiz’s innocuous header as anything but analogous to Brazil’s entire night, if not the larger state of the team. Just like their marauding center half, Brazil was unconvincing at the onset, Luiz’s own goal celebrated by Mexico with confident smiles rather than elated gapes.
But the visitors, who had yet to impress in the Mano Menezes era, somehow pulled off the win despite Dani Alves conceding a 44th minute penalty which threatened to give Mexico an undeserved 2-0 lead. But when Jefferson laid claim to Julio Cesar’s job by pushing Andres Guardado’s try aside, the only lasting effect of the sequence was Brazil’s right back picking up his second yellow card.
If the loss disadvantaged Brazil, it was difficult to tell. Mexico never seized control, and when they committed a foul at the edge of their area with just over 10 minutes to play, it was only right that Ronaldinho was allowed to play hero.
Oswaldo Sanchez made his 100th appearance for Mexico and will retire from international football. (Christian Palma/AP Images)
Opening up his right foot through the outside of the ball, Gaucho put his shot from one ball length inside Oswaldo Sanchez’s far post. It was a jaw-dropping equalizer, a moment that forced you to internally debate whether Ronaldinho could justify his selection based on nothing more than sporadic brilliance. In a game that can be defined by a one golden moment in a given 90 minutes, Ronaldinho can still sway results.
Three minutes later, with the sparks from Gaucho’s lightning bolt still twinkling in the crowd’s eyes, Brazil completed the comeback. Marcelo broke through the right side of the Mexican defense and held off a defender while ruining Sanchez’s going away party. In the last moments of the veteran goalkeeper’s 100th cap, Brazil’s left back turned a cornerstone victory into a famous loss.
When Sanchez was brought off moments later by "Chepo" de la Torre , the 38-year-old’s ovation was little more than the polite applause of a crowd coming to grips with the result’s reversal.
When Marcelo was mobbed by Ronaldinho, Lucas Leiva and the rest of the team that had struggled to convince in the wake of South Africa’s disappointment, the new Selecao finally seemed to have an identity. Whereas the changes brought in by Menezes had created an amorphous group lacking leadership, results, and confidence – a group that was waiting for Neymar to fast-forward his development – Mexico granted the young selection a defining moment. With El Tri’s inexperienced side lacking the urgency needed to subjugate Brazil, Menezes’s side found their confidence, waited for a break, and (with Marcelo’s goal) found some definition.
Marcelo celebrates his game-winning goal with Lucas, Neymar and Ronaldinho. (Photo by Eduardo Verdugo/AP Images)
Not unlike their wild center half, Brazil still have problems, but after the win in Mexico, their promise is momentarily outshining their shortcomings. The team still hasn’t found a way to consistently threaten in attack, and their midfield lacks creativity and dynamism. As Lucio and Julio Cesar start to exit the scene, it’s unclear whether players like Luiz and Jefferson can replace them. There’s growing uncertainty at right back, and Menezes has yet to show he’s the man to lead this team into 2014.
But now, whenever this team is faced with those questions, they can think back to Torreon and remember:
Ultimately, they found a way to win. For a young Brazilian team that has yet to taste major success, that’s something to build on.
For Mexico, Tuesday was the type of distinct opportunity that rarely presents itself. The match had been incredibly hyped, and, gifted an early goal, Mexico was freed from the type of pressure that mounts on a team with expectations searching for a goal.
They were given a lead, and a half an hour later, they were given a numerical edge – all they needed for a landmark result. A golden generation of talent that has already conquered CONCACAF had a primrose path to true global significance. Yet at the final whistle, it was Brazil who was clapping toward the stands. Instead of repaying the hype with a victory that would be the new hallmark of the Gio dos Santos-led generation, Mexico was given reason to doubt.
As much as the match could be a building block for Brazil, the result could be a setback for El Tri. While de la Torre can rest knowing his team has conquered its corner of the world, this team is cursed to deal with much bigger expectations.
When given a goal and a man advantage at home, this team is supposed to win. This team is not supposed to let their opportunities slip away. This team is supposed to be different.
Now, Mexico is left to wonder when their next chance will come along. Wins against the likes of Chile, Paraguay and Bosnia (all of whom Mexico has beaten in 2011) confirm the team is strong, but until Mexico gets another crack at a Brazil or an Argentina, doubts will still remain. Can this team really be the one that makes Mexico more than a regional power?