Mexico issued a professional and sturdy performance to qualify for the Hex. That won't satisfy the naysayers, but will do the trick for Chepo de la Torre.
El Tri rolled to a fourth consecutive Group B win and clinched a spot in next year’s hexagonal ahead of schedule, but the team was still in for plenty of criticism after beating Costa Rica at home by the minimum difference.
The bottom line, though, is that Mexico is undefeated and into the next round, with two games still to play. No other team in CONCACAF is likely to be high and dry until all is said and done two matches from now.
So what are some fans and pundits complaining about? El Tri looked a bit lackluster Tuesday night, but there wasn’t much motivation to be found for a team that had already gone to Costa Rica and dominated last week. Despite the desperation of a Tico team on the brink, the match was under control.
When the smoke clears from this evening of qualifiers around the confederation, maybe those criticizing de la Torre will regain some perspective. In the meantime, here are three takeaways to consider from Tuesday night’s win:
Javier Hernandez’s goal was big: Chicharito had been on a dry run for club and country. For Mexico, he hadn’t scored since June, a string of almost four matches, and we all know that his club situation is less than ideal right now.
So to score the winning goal against a regional rival like Costa Rica is big. For a forward, confidence comes in fits and starts. Hernandez made the easiest of finishes Tuesday night after Jorge Torres Nilo provided him with inch-perfect service, but that strike could go a long way towards reestablishing the striker’s wavering form.
As if to remind everyone that he’s always been around to score for Mexico - or that he can score with his head - Chicharito pointed at his forehead after scoring, as he congratulated Torres Nilo on the pass.
The forward insisted after the match that the gesture had no hidden meaning, but it should remind everyone, especially those calling for Chicharito’s benching for El Tri, that Hernandez is always lurking dangerously, waiting to put away good service.
Jesus Zavala is an emerging star: Zavala played another standout game in central midfield, and nearly netted for what would have been the second time in two games.
The Monterrey midfielder’s outings for Mexico have gradually been evolving from solid to remarkable over the past few months, as Zavala asserts himself and makes a central midfield spot his for good. In fact, at this point, Zavala would have to be considered El Tri’s top central midfielder, ahead of even Carlos Salcido.
In de la Torre’s dual holding mid scheme, Zavala’s not going anywhere. Except maybe to Europe, from where clubs will certainly come calling for the 25-year-old if he continues his outstanding play for club and country.
The Chicharito and Peralta pairing might not work up top: A couple games is not quite enough to judge by, but given the other options for attacking play at his disposal, de la Torre might be well-advised to give the two target forward formation a rest.
Oribe Peralta and Javier Hernandez are very similar types of players: target men who primarily finish. They’re a bit different in how they do it - Chicharito is a six yard box finisher while Peralta can create his own shot from around the area.
So they look compatible on the surface, but on this evidence it seems maybe they’re not. Both rely on service in the box, and have therefore tended to suffocate the other’s space.
With two holding mids already on the field, putting two target men up top may be a little too conservative, and definitely forces too much reliance on wing play. As Costa Rica showed tonight, that makes El Tri a bit one dimensional in attack, and levels the playing field for less skilled opponents.
The solution would be to put a true creator - a Giovani Dos Santos or Marco Fabian - in the hole behind Peralta or Hernandez. We know that Peralta and Hernandez are both good players, but de la Torres should just choose one.
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