El Tri took an early lead and ended up winning, but showed enough of its bad old self to give Miguel Herrera something to think about.
Mexico flew out of the blocks, swarming Finland and didn’t let the Scandinavian side out of its own half early on. Within 25 minutes, Mexico was 2-0 up, Herrera’s 5-3-2 system was working well, with wing backs Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar pushing high up and the three center backs spreading to become available to take the ball and create the extra player in midfield.
Finland seemed to be wilting under the pressing and high tempo and Mexico looked set to deliver the kind of performance and statement that it has been looking for all of 2013.
Then the old demons somehow reappeared after Mexico’s defense went missing. The ball came loose from a Finland free kick in the 27th minute for Jarkko Hurme to score. It was slack from Mexico.
Heads dropped, the sparse pro-Mexico crowd inside the Qualcomm Stadium became restless and Finland slowly but surely got into the game to a point where, at halftime, they looked more like getting an equalizer than El Tri increasing its lead.
The old doubts crept in about whether Mexico would crumble.
Oribe Peralta was slightly fortunate to score with a deflected effort two minutes after halftime, but once again Finland managed to get back in the game from nothing when first Rafa Marquez slipped up and than Juan Carlos Valenzuela bumbled the ball into his own net.
“The work of the team leaves me satisfied,” was Herrera’s take in he postgame press conference. “We have to correct the mistakes that lead to goals.”
The new Mexico coach added that the team “showed a clear idea of what we want to do on the pitch.”
It is true El Tri showed more in he final third and Juan Carlos Medina was a major positive in the holding role, but those nerves and individual errors at crucial moments in games are hard for a coach to eradicate.
The loss of confidence a player like Valenzuela must suffer after his error will be hard to erase ahead of New Zealand on Nov. 13.
Then there is the goalkeeper position still to be decided with Moises Munoz and Jesus Corona playing a half each. Upfront, Raul Jimenez didn’t show much in the first half, while Aldo de Nigris held the ball up well in the second, the debate is still on as to whether the Europe-based players could help out alongside Peralta.
After the game, Herrera once again – for the third consecutive press conference – pointed out that the travel schedule for Europe-based players is difficult. It was another hint that big names may be left out.
Whether Herrera can afford to not even bring players like Javier Hernandez, Hector Moreno and Giovani Dos Santos in case Mexico needs rescuing off the bench is a whole different issue.
What is certain is that at every point of Mexico’s run to the World Cup, there have been comments from pundits that El Tri will be in Brazil 2014, like it has some divine right.
Against New Zealand, everything is on the line. So far this year when the pressure has been on, Mexico has not performed and on Wednesday there was little reason to think that the coaching change has dissipated those butterflies surrounding the team, even if there was an improvement.
The cauldron of the Estadio Azteca will be a world away from the friendly environs of Southern California against a Finland reserve side.
Herrera still has a lot to do and think about.