MEXICO CITY -- Even when it's more than half empty, the Estadio Azteca is a monstrous, overwhelming sight to behold for those who take a moment to appreciate its grandeur. Thousands stayed home last Wednesday night, forgoing the usual traffic, holding on to the expectation that with or without their vocal support, El Tri would roll over Jamaica to start the Hexagonal campaign en route to Brazil 2014.
The journalists expected it as well, with pre-game comments ranging from the snarky-yet-clever to the crass stuff you might expect a drunken fan to say. By all accounts, it was a done deal. The overconfidence seeped onto the pitch as well, and onto the bench. Despite warnings to the contrary, Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre's players were claiming victory before going through the formality of actually playing the game.
Sporting the 4-2-2-2 formation that has never quite looked right for Mexico after the 2011 Gold Cup, Mexico initially featured Giovani dos Santos, Andres Guardado, Oribe Peralta and Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez. Even with the usually sparkling Gio and clinical Chicharito on the pitch in the first half, it was Jamaica which had the best chances.
Mexico's best player ended up being Jose de Jesus Corona, whose amazing work in goal made it abundantly clear that he is El Tri's first-choice goalkeeper. In the right back position, Chepo gave Club America standout Paul Aguilar a second chance to start following a dismal showing against Denmark last week. Aguilar did not correct his previous mistakes. The former Pachuca man was a comic cavalcade of mistakes on the right side, flubbing passes and coughing up possession on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, Carlos Vela slept soundly an ocean away, with El Tri undoubtedly needing a player of his caliber to put the game away. Just hours after the USA coughed up an early lead in San Pedro Sula and showed serious deficiencies of their own, Mexico was equally weak, and its manager's insistence on playing a formation that hasn't worked for his team in nearly two years was, ultimately, the final nail in the coffin.
When Chicharito has been allowed to play as a lone striker, with an offensive midfielder like Gio or Marco Fabian floating behind him and attacking wingers on either side, the Manchester United striker has shown fits of greatness, capitalizing on his movement, speed and placement to baffle defenders and put 28 international goals away. With Peralta or Aldo de Nigris by his side, Hernandez is limited to one side of the pitch and, without an attacking midfielder behind him, has to rely exclusively on his wingers to loft crosses in the box.
Despite the "bitterness and sadness" produced by the result -- Chepo's own words -- he will likely experiment with variations of the 4-4-2 scheme that just isn't working anymore. A 4-5-1 or a variation of a 4-3-3 is much more adept now for the players on his squad. That much was readily apparent to the host of critics on Twitter, the journalists in the press box and the nowhere-near-capacity crowd whose boos reverberated in Estadio Azteca's immense caverns.
Usually, those boos are reserved for opponents, pressuring them into mistakes and prompting broader results for El Tri. Wednesday night, the grandiose, overwhelming monster turned on its stubborn master.
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