Goal has thoughts on the midfielder, Juan Carlos Osorio’s curious substitutions and Guillermo Ochoa’s stunning saves
It was an excellent start to the Confederations Cup for Mexico. El Tri played Portugal well, controlling the game for long stretches and eventually emerging with a 2-2 draw.
Before we turn the page to their second game of the tournament — Wednesday’s encounter with New Zealand — let’s take a quick look back at some of the good and bad that came out of Sunday’s opener …
Dos Santos a boss in the midfield
It was impressive enough when he did it against Honduras, but Jonathan dos Santos’ control of the midfield for Mexico against Portugal was superb. He’s a big part of the reason Mexico was able to keep the ball away from Cristiano Ronaldo as much as it was and helped the team control 59 percent of the possession.
Dos Santos helping control the midfield also allows Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado to devote less of their time to defensive assignments and more time to support the forwards in Osorio’s 4-3-3.
Not only is Dos Santos controlling the midfield seemingly at will, he’s also delivering pinpoint set pieces in pressure-packed situations, most notably in stoppage time when he served up the corner kick Hector Morneo nodded in for the equalizer.
We’ve said it before and will say it again: Dos Santos’ minutes in La Liga have helped him raise his level and make him the perfect example for why Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio wants other players to leave the safe shelter of Liga MX and fight for minutes abroad.
Right back still a question mark
There are so many places where it’s coming together on the field for Mexico. Diego Reyes and Nestor Araujo are becoming top-notch options at center back alongside Hector Moreno. Even without Jesus Corona, the left wing spot has in-form players like Hirving Lozano and Raul Jimenez.
Then there’s right back, where it just isn’t coming together for El Tri. It seems that new Frankfurt signing Carlos Salcedo has the gig for now. But Miguel Layun could move to right back against a team with fewer talented wingers than Portugal and less of an impetus to push up from the left, with Luis Reyes tapped to play left back. Or Mexico could opt for three at the back, using wing backs.
For now, though, it seems to be Salcedo’s job to lose. It may be harsh to cast stones at a player for losing track of Cristiano Ronaldo, who is one of the best attackers in the world, but he certainly did lose track of him in the 35th minute — and that certainly was why Portugal was able to find the goal.
Beyond this tournament are Mexico’s hopes really all on America defender Paul Aguilar recovering well from his injury? Aguilar was a good option at the World Cup, but that was three years ago. He’s now 31. Perhaps Raul “Dedos” Lopez will have a breakout performance at the Gold Cup? Osorio will change his mind about Chivas right back Jesus Sanchez?
Either way, Salcedo is likely to be a center back at the club level and will be more comfortable in that role. He had a difficult job Sunday and wasn’t abysmal, but even he might be relieved if a long-term right back option pops up in the player pool.
Ochoa makes case against goalkeeper rotations
Osorio will make rotations to his Mexico team to face New Zealand. I’ve generally supported Osorio’s rotations, but they haven’t quite worked out in goal. Guillermo Ochoa showed once again Sunday that he’s Mexico’s best shot-stopper and the back line clearly is comfortable when he’s playing.
His stop on Andre Silva with the score at 1-1 was stunning, bringing to mind memories of his performance against Brazil three years ago. But his stop on Ronaldo in the 20th minute wasn’t half bad, either, with the goalkeeper pushing up a volley from the Real Madrid star to keep things scoreless early on.
The goalkeeper won’t have much fatigue after playing just one game, and while Alfredo Talavera may be a touch better than Ochoa in the air, it may be worth sacrificing that to have Ochoa’s positioning, reflexes and shot-stopping abilities on the field for the rest of the tournament.
Did transfer situation cause puzzling sub?
As the final 10 minutes of the game approached, Mexico was enjoying more of the ball but starting to see its grasp on the game fade as Portugal found more counterattacks. The game was calling out for a substitute, someone who could move the ball deep into the Portugal half and create chances for Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who still was bouncing around the field with energy. Osorio went to the bench in the 79th minute and brought on … Oribe Peralta?
It was a head-scratching decision and, with today’s news that Hirving Lozano went to the Netherlands for a medical with his new club, one that may be explained by reasons other than tactical choices. Lozano seemed like the logical starter on left wing after Corona had to pull out of the tournament. Osorio instead went with Jimenez.
Jimenez is in good form, and Osorio may have wanted to get him on the field after his excellent showing in the World Cup qualifier against Honduras.
“For his part Raul, with the battering of the two tall central defenders who are strong in the aerial game like Fonte and Pepe are, the way of controlling the ball, dealing with the physical things they bring and after that making contact with our interior players was very important for us,” Osorio said postgame.
Even so, not putting Lozano in the game was a strange choice from a manager who almost always looks for a win. Osorio’s planned substitution of Giovani dos Santos for Carlos Vela just before the hour mark also didn’t pay dividends. Vela had created some good chances, but Dos Santos didn’t seem to get plugged in.
The coach should get the benefit of the doubt, as his in-match changes generally have worked for Mexico. They didn’t Sunday, and both Lozano’s minutes and Osorio’s changes will be things to watch going forward.
Success must follow success
This was a good result for Mexico and, as Osorio pointed out, “We were equal to the current champion of Europe.”
But none of it matters if El Tri can’t follow up Sunday’s draw with wins against New Zealand and Russia. Mexico may already have improved on its performance at the 2013 Confederations Cup, but if it comes home after three group games, isn’t it essentially the same as last time around?
The path gets easier, but you still have to go down it. This cannot be the high point of the tournament.
“Every game has its importance. Now we have this result and we’re going to focus and concentrate on the next game,” Osorio said. “It’s going to be a very difficult opponent who is going to give everything in the next game and we’re going to try to win and advance.”