Mexico’s friendly on Wednesday against Nigeria may have ended 0-0, but it was likely the most insightful 90 minutes of soccer coach Miguel Herrera will see from El Tri ahead of the World Cup.
Goalkeepers excelled in stopping the opposition from scoring and tackles flew in as players from both sides fought for the victory and, perhaps more importantly, to consolidate or win spots in their respective national team squads for the World Cup in Brazil this summer.
Here are five things we learned from a Mexican point of view:
Ochoa is in the frame for a start
It should be no surprise that Guillermo Ochoa had an outstanding game against Nigeria. He was a good ‘keeper when he left America for France and he has improved since then.
A string of early saves from the Ajaccio man kept Mexico in the game. While the diving saves may have looked good on camera, it was in the 14th minute when Ochoa read a Nigeria play well and was extremely brave in coming out to claim the ball that would’ve impressed Herrera most.
Herrera said after the game he isn’t worried about the goalkeeper position because he knows he will have three quality players to take to the World Cup.
That is all well and good, but Ochoa made a clear statement that he is ready not just to be in the Mexico squad in Brazil, but also to start games.
Herrera has a headache.
Mexico’s defensive cohesion needs work
It isn’t easy to adapt to playing Herrera’s system of three central defenders and the early signs were that it was proving to be a struggle.
The chemistry between Rafa Marquez, Diego Reyes and Hector Moreno needs to be as close to telepathic as possible. On Wednesday, there were too many examples of players leaving holes, stepping up at inappropriate times and general miscommunication.
On the positive side, it did improve as the games went on, although duo to Mexico’s disordered World Cup process, Herrera has very little time to work and get it right.
Guardado is still a contender
It seems there is a general feeling Andres Guardado is on the slide and clearly things aren’t going well for him in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen.
But he is a veteran of two World Cups, has proved himself in Europe and remains a very good player. On Wednesday, Guardado put his poor start at Bayer Leverkusen behind him and was largely a positive for Mexico in the left wing back position. His passing was tidy and he got forward well in the 73rd to provide a good chance for Raul Jimenez.
While he likely didn’t do enough to earn a starting spot above Miguel Layun, there were plenty of reasons for Guardado to be quietly happy with his night’s work and chances of going to Brazil.
There are still a couple of worrying positions for Mexico
Paul Aguilar isn’t as convincing at right wing back as you would like to see less than 100 days from a World Cup and there isn’t exactly a line of quality players behind him. It appears Herrera thinks the same, at least if his call up of 19-year-old Rodolfo Pizarro was anything to go by last month.
The other doubt is over whether Juan Carlos Medina is the solution in the defensive midfield role. He didn’t convince against a strong Nigeria midfield and Jose Juan Vazquez is equally inexperienced at the very top level. One option could be playing Hector Herrera is that role, but it is one he isn’t used to featuring in.
El Tri continues to be a money-spinning machine in the USA
Despite the dire 2013 Mexico’s national team went through, there were over 54,000 in Texas to watch El Tri’s friendly against Korea Republic in January and over 68,000 in the Georgia Dome, Atlanta on Wednesday.
They are pretty incredible figures considering neither game was against opposition at the very top of the world game. While such crowds can be drawn on a regular basis, the Mexican federation is unlikely to start scheduling more matches either in Mexico or elsewhere outside the American continent for El Tri. It simply wouldn’t make economic sense.