Mexico held to goalless draw by Peru
Wednesday night offered Mexico an inviting opportunity to slide back on track with a victory against Peru.
El Tri boss José Manuel de la Torre named a squad capable of dispatching its inexperienced, yet talented, opposition with little fanfare and generating some momentum ahead of a friendly against Nigeria next month and a trio of vital World Cup qualifiers in June.
Instead of grasping that chance with both hands and quelling the emerging discontent at home, Mexico instead prolonged its current crisis of belief and execution with an uninspiring 0-0 draw in San Francisco.
Few of the usual hallmarks of a good Mexico performance – ambitious and swashbuckling work on the counter, neat interchanges to create width and prompt openings in dangerous areas and ruthless finishing in front of goal – appeared at Candlestick Park. Those once familiar traits yielded to the current operating principles of inauspicious work in possession, slack movement off the ball, sloppy decisions out of the back and unimaginative play in the final third.
Shoehorning this friendly into the schedule between two Liga MX matchdays probably did not help the cohesiveness within the ranks, but this disjointed display resembled similar efforts by the full squad in the previous three draws against Jamaica, Honduras and the United States.
At least this revamped outfit knew well enough to alter its approach when it fumbled to create opportunities against the well-drilled Peruvians. The first-choice side often tries to pass its way through no matter the circumstances. This group quickly resorted to more direct fare to place immediate pressure on the opposing rearguard and use Raul Jiménez's pace to stretch the field vertically.
Most of the mildly promising work on the night came when Jiménez created space with his runs or Pablo Barrera meandered into areas where he could operate against the opposing fullback. Jiménez managed to drift behind the defense, latch on to Gerardo Torrado's diagonal and turn his sharp-angle shot off the outside of the post in the first half. Returning winger Barrera showed his utility in more significant matches by offering his usual dose of trickery when played into the correct spaces with balls over the top.
It came as little surprise when a rather spartan piece of play prompted a penalty award after 68 minutes. Gerardo Flores clipped a ball up the right wing toward second-half substitute Omar Bravo. The veteran striker fell under the weight of Orlando Contreras' challenge to draw a spot kick from referee Ricardo Salazar. Ángel Reyna hit his resulting effort at the perfect height for Jose Carvallo to parry away and prevent Mexico from salvaging the expected victory.
That result would not have accurately reflected Peru's dogged contributions on the night or Mexico's failure to meet the necessary standards once again. De la Torre must now sort through another underwhelming performance and take some positives forward to draw some meaning from the exercise.
If he scours hard enough, he will find them. Barrera and Jiménez look ready to contribute in meaningful matches. Jorge Torres Nilo overlapped to good effect and posed problems once again on the left side. And the rearguard coped well enough when it avoided turning the ball over in poor spots.
Those modest silver linings do not provide answers to the lingering quandaries impairing the wider picture, though. Flores felt the nerves of his first international appearance and inspired little confidence that he could provide a viable alternative to Severo Meza in Kingston. None of the four players deployed in central midfield stated enough a case to unsettle the established partnership between Carlos Salcido and Jesús Zavala. And the return to the 4-4-2 setup did not supply the improvement de la Torre sought as he continues to vacillate on his preferred tactical structure.
Continued uncertainty on those potentially vital points will hardly settle the increasingly frayed nerves around the country and within the camp. This group of players is not fulfilling its potential at the moment. If the situation persists or worsens through May and June, then de la Torre's future and, improbably, El Tri's World Cup berth next year may come into significant question.
For now, everyone remains on firm, if not particularly satisfying, ground despite another disappointing stalemate. But Mexico cannot afford many more false starts as it attempts to return to the proper course and satisfy its objectives over the next few months.