Despite coming off a disastrous World Cup qualifying run and two straight friendly losses, El Tri made a statement in its opener against Cameroon.The “fifth game” or quarterfinal?
There will be a lot more who believe that it is a possibility for this Mexico team after a fine performance under tough circumstances to defeat Cameroon 1-0 in Natal and tie Brazil on three points at the top of Group A.
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Oribe Peralta took the standing ovation for his 61st-minute goal, but Giovani Dos Santos was the star of the show as Mexico dominated, with Cameroon only showing the briefest flashes of quality.
After 30 minutes, Dos Santos had netted twice, but the Colombian officials disallowed both for offside as Mexico handled the constant, driving rain much better than its African opponents. TV replays showed both goals should’ve stood.
Mexico’s winning goal against Cameroon on Friday in many ways defined the team’s excellent performance under testing circumstances.
The slick move was started and finished by Peralta, with Hector Herrera playing the key pass into Dos Santos and Peralta on hand to tap in. It highlighted Mexico at its best, combining technique with fluid teamwork that caused problems all game for a sluggish Cameroon that seemed to bring the problems hampering its preparation onto the field.
In second-half injury time, Mexico was still pushing forward, with left wing back Miguel Layun winning the ball near the opposition’s byline before driving in a cross for a free Javier Hernandez.
When Mexico gets it right like that, there is little doubt El Tri can be a threat at this World Cup, even if that type of performance hasn’t happened with anywhere near the frequency it should’ve since that Gold Cup 2011 final.
But the real positive for Mexico was the mental aspect of the performance.
Coach Herrera was warned by the referee in the first half for his protests over the disallowed goals and it would’ve been easy for both him and his team to lose concentration and discipline.
Instead, El Tri – which had seven players that had previously been at a World Cup – continued to drive on in the rain, dominating possession, hunting down Cameroon in packs and defend surprising well to quell the threat of Samuel Eto’o.
Many players answered the doubts hanging over them, with Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez a rock, Rafa Marquez giving a leader’s performance, Jose Juan Vazquez the epitome of cool for a midfielder that was playing in Mexico’s second division just two years ago.
In the stands, over 20,000 Mexico fans – according to reports - celebrated in the driving rain and there thoughts – once the hangovers have worn off – will turn to just what this Mexico team can now achieve at the World Cup.
Brazil will obviously be a much bigger threat and Croatia proved that it is a very good team. After that, Holland, Chile, Australia or Spain would await in a potential Round of 16 match-up.
For now though, Mexico is exactly where it wants to be in Brazil 2014, with three points in the bag after its first game and extra shot of confidence injected.
That “fifth game” is that little bit closer.