Call them growing pains, for now. Matched up against a young but tough Danish squad that eventually grinded out a draw, Mexico’s golden generation showed but a few moments of brilliance in what was effectively their first game together suiting up for El Tri’s senior squad.
Ten of the 18 gold medal winners who conquered London 2012 were called up for Wednesday night’s friendly against the Scandinavians, and five were included in Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre’s starting lineup at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Eventually a sixth, Marco Fabian, would come in and score the team’s only goal.
"Tonight was a chance to show what we’re capable of. Denmark is a complicated rival, and they had a good strategy," Fabian said after the match. Raul Jimenez –who made it seven medalists– almost gave the team a second strike off a Fabian pass.
While it is fairly obvious to even the most casual observer that this version of Mexico is still missing a bevy of major stars, the sequence of events in Arizona was as exciting as it was a warning for fans to stay grounded in the tough year ahead.
New Villarreal signing Javier Aquino was as excitable as a caffeinated child for most of the first half, but the winger eventually settled in after a chat with his backroom staff during the halftime break. Xolos duo Cirilo Saucedo and Fernando Arce gave the Tijuana club their very first national team players in the team’s short history, but it is unlikely that they will stay on long-term due to the heavy competition for spots in both their positions.
Hector Herrera is not a star in the making; he’s arrived as one of Mexico’s best midfielders. Expect him to push Monterrey’s Jesus Zavala out of the starting lineup for good.
Oribe Peralta and Aldo de Nigris continued their long-standing battle for the second striker spot behind Javier Hernandez, with neither really gaining an advantage over the other. Peralta virtually had no chances in front of goal, while De Nigris squandered chances both for himself as well as other teammates.
At times, the team seemed disjointed and weak on the wings, an area of the pitch that at this point is Mexico’s biggest concern. The left back and right back spots are very much up for grabs. Jorge Torres Nilo gave up El Tri’s penalty late in the second half, and Paul Aguilar didn't duplicate the form that has vaulted him to the national team in the first place.
Morten Olsen and his coaching staff were well aware of this, and most of Denmark’s attacks followed a pretty similar pattern: Get to midfield however you can, then dump the ball to either flank in order to slam in a cross and try to make use of your sizable height advantage. While this won’t usually be an issue for Mexico against other CONCACAF squads, it could be a focal point for the Confederations Cup and other international tournaments.
However, the notion that even Mexico’s “B” team (though Wednesday’s group of players could very well have five or six regular starters lurking in its lineup) can wail on most opponents should be put to rest. With Mexico’s top squad taking on the Confederations Cup and an alternate group expected for this summer’s Gold Cup, a regional championship or even a berth to the final should not be considered a given. Though raw talent is plainly bountiful beyond El Tri’s first team, the value of playing together and acquiring rhythm is now plainly apparent.
This team will undoubtedly be better Feb. 6 against Jamaica, and it won’t just be because they’ll have Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos spearheading the offense, as Hector Moreno and Andres Guardado beef up the middle two lines.
Quite simply, a second week of training and another full match together on the pitch will give El Tri’s Olympic conquerors and fringe first-teamers an opportunity to develop their skills and march towards Mexico’s 2013 schedule, arguably the most important in the team’s 90-year history.
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