"Lackluster" or not, Mexico's wins against Guyana and El Salvador have it sitting pretty atop its qualifying group.After just two matches in CONCACAF's third round of World Cup qualifying, only a few things have surprised observers.
Panama's inspired play netted them three points in Honduras. Guatemala salvaged a late draw against the United States and nearly ended 29 years of futility against the Yanks. Costa Rica, which appeared to have a ticket stamped to South Africa just three years ago before crashing out, has come back strong.
Mexico, atop Group B with six points, is no surprise.
And yet, some head-scratching has occurred in regards to the team's performances against Guyana and El Salvador. Local press has found plenty to nitpick about, and many after the Guyana game bemoaned that gone are the days when a packed Estadio Azteca against "weak" CONCACAF opponents would witness epic scorelines.
A commentator on the nation's most watched nightly soccer show called Mexico's performance in San Salvador on Tuesday "laughable and pitiful." Mind you, this was not a Salvadorian journalist. Lost in the shuffle of that seemingly greedy group of fans and journalists is the big picture that, while Jose Manuel de la Torre's team has already made history in this short qualifying run, the best is yet to come.
The Estadio Cuscatlan had been murderous for El Tri in recent history. Since the mammoth home of la Selecta opened in 1976, Mexico had come away from it with only one win, in 1997. Mexico's "laughable and pitiful" form on Tuesday netted its first three points in San Salvador in 15 years.
El Salvador might not be a quality opponent on a consistent basis, but it has definitely posed problems for several regional opponents in the past. Even the best teams around the world struggle away to "inferior" opponents. Argentina, Brazil and virtually all of South America dread the altitude of the Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz, where many have gasped for air while Bolivia cruised to some notable wins.
Under previous coaches, it was rare to see a tactical shift tailored to the specific needs of certain qualifying matches. Clearly, Chepo de la Torre knows how to win away from home, an issue that had hindered El Tri's performance in the qualifying stages for quite some time.
For the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Mexico played eight away games in the third and final hexagonal rounds. It won one. La Selección lost away to Jamaica, El Salvador, Honduras (twice) and the USA.
For years, Mexicans bemoaned that the USA had figured out a way to beat Mexico during the qualifying stage. Drop El Tri in the cold nights of Columbus, Ohio. Wait for them to inevitably take control of possession. Don't make any mistakes in defense and wait for turnovers. Fire back on a counterattack that seemingly always had Landon Donovan to thank and score. Repeat.
This time, backed by a fantastic generation of players, de la Torre can boast the fact that he has not yet lost against a CONCACAF rival in nine tries, winning eight of those games, Gold Cup and all.
And while some may expect Mexico to blow out every opponent at the Estadio Azteca or win with tiki-taka in Central America's toughest buildings, it's clear those who can take emotion out of the equation can grasp the important steps that the current version of the Mexican national team is taking. One of Mexican football's most bittersweet sayings reads: "Jugamos como nunca, perdimos como siempre."
"We played like never before; we lost like always." De la Torre has lost just twice in 23 tries since taking over in early 2011.
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