The Tijuana veteran was an overlooked but vital part of Mexico's dominant 4-1 victory over the Ivory Coast.Many wondered when and even if it would ever come, but against Ivory Coast on Wednesday in New Jersey’s Metlife Stadium, El Tri finally pulled a performance out the bag and convinced in a 4-1 victory over Ivory Coast.
Under-fire manager Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre changed to a bolder formation and managed to switch the struggling team’s fortunes following a vote of confidence by Mexican soccer’s power-breakers in the wake of the Gold Cup failure.
The key to Mexico’s domination was in the midfield setup. Gerardo Torrado played his usual limited role in front of the back four, but in front of him, he had a player in Fernando Arce that can contribute both defensively and going forward. The confident Club Tijuana player wanted the ball played into him at all times, giving the defenders and Torrado a ready outlet to launch attacks.
Arce was then able to feed the fluid attacking options that Angel Reyna, Giovani Dos Santos and Argentina-born debutant Christian Gimenez, becoming the crucial link between midfield and the offense, something that has been missing in recent El Tri games.
It’s a role that should be perfectly suited to Porto’s Hector Herrera, but his performances for El Tri have left a lot to be desired and Arce must now be in front of him in Chepo’s pecking order for the crucial Honduras qualifier on Sept. 6.
While Arce’s role was vital, the intelligence of Gimenez in front of him was equally important, with the Cruz Azul player moving back into midfield when required and aiding Arce in getting the team ticking for really the first time in 2013.
Of course, the eye-catching performance was that of Angel Reyna, who was switched between both wings. On fire for Veracruz in the Liga MX, Reyna showed off what a special talent he can be. The 28-year-old twisted and turned the Ivory Coast defense inside out, playing a part in Mexico’s first and third goals and getting a deserved goal himself in the final minute of the game.
Reyna’s major challenge moving forward is reaching that high level of performance on a consistent basis.
Playing with two genuine wingers pushed high up onto the opposition full backs – as opposed to wide players that are also charged with moving inside – also helped spread Ivory Coast’s defense and El Tri to pressure higher up the field. The rewards were obviously very early in the game, with the African side struggling to play the ball out from the back and Mexico’s more attacking formation putting Ivory Coast on the back foot.
The mind wanders back to that game in the Confederations Cup against Brazil, when Chepo played Carlos Salcido alongside Torrado in the center of midfield, with Gerardo Flores and Andres Guardado – both players that can also play as full backs - on the wings. It invited Brazil on and made El Tri look impotent going forward.
That was the antithesis of what this Mexico side should be about and Wednesday’s game was the reaffirmation of how El Tri should approach games tactically.
But nobody should be getting carried away off the back of one result. The victory was a friendly and Ivory Coast’s players looked at times like they were playing with one eye on the upcoming season in Europe, with the decision to start with Didier Drogba, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou on the bench strange at best.
The games where it really counts for Chepo and El Tri – World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and the United States – still lie in wait, as Salcido nicely summed up after the match.
“At the end of the day, this game was worth nothing but the confidence it gives the team for what is coming up.”