The Mexican men’s national team set a record Wednesday night against Peru. Led by Jose Manuel de la Torre and his alternate starting 11 in lieu of the European brigade, El Tri drew its fifth consecutive match, a feat unmatched in 85 years of competition.
In 2013, the reigning Gold Cup champion has scored just three goals dating back to January and has been shut out in all but two of its games this year, scoring a grand total of zero goals at the Estadio Azteca and putting up another goose egg in San Francisco. The 0-0 draw with Peru extended its scoreless run to 216 minutes, all the way back to Javier Hernandez’s second strike in San Pedro Sula on March 22.
Though El Tri’s defense has remained stout through the offensive drought, it’s quite obvious that a combination of tactical inflexibility, poor finishing and, perhaps most worrying of all, a lack of confidence is creeping up on Mexico at the worst possible time, with almost half of the World Cup qualifiers gone and the Confederations Cup just two months away.
Injuries to Tri mainstays Oribe Peralta and Aldo de Nigris have taken a couple of Mexico’s most trusted offensive weapons away from Chepo’s arsenal at a time when only Javier Hernandez has been generating danger for opposing defenses. With Chicharito’s supporting strikers of choice out of action, Mexico has failed to adjust accordingly in order to maintain its tactical advantage.
Playing a rough 4-4-2 that features two defensive midfielders at nearly all times has hindered Mexico’s effectiveness up front, and it is no coincidence that in the one game this year that Chepo decided to play with just one striker, El Tri notched its only multi-goal game and was an ill-timed penalty away from victory in Honduras.
Opting instead for two wingers and Giovani dos Santos in a floating, No. 10 role behind the Manchester United striker, Mexico thrived early and then collapsed under the heat, fatigue and CONCACAF home-cooking officiating in San Pedro Sula. Even then, the determining factor behind that draw was not remotely physical.
Despite years of making it a priority, Mexico’s psyche remains a consistent issue. The idea that Mexico cannot achieve greatness on the pitch does not necessarily owe itself to a lack of talent or the on-the-field issues, rather the nerves of steel that remain in absentia for El Tri in critical moments.
Winning youth tournaments in 2005, 2011 and 2012 seemed to make the issue somewhat moot, and the hope that the new generations would somehow bridge the gap between old failures and a bright future brought calm to a senior team landscape that had seen plenty of turmoil in the last World Cup cycle.
Even with several of those youth team champions now filling up the ranks, El Tri has crawled back into its old shell in 2013, and an emphasis on fixing the sudden nervousness and overall urgency to obtain results must be prioritized.
Mexico remains, by far, one of the best teams in Latin America. The usual pre-game spiel spouted by opposing managers and players as a courtesy is long gone. Teams respect Mexico, fear its prowess and have now come to adjust (and quite well, in fact) to its strengths in order to neutralize it.
The onus is, once again, back on Mexico. Overall, the talent and aforementioned golden group of players are available in amounts never seen before. Now it’s time for them to rise up and conquer the issues of old.
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