El Tri dominated possession and chances Wednesday night against Denmark, but overall Mexico was lackluster. It happens. Chepo de la Torre's team has been off for several months.
Luckily for El Tri, this was a friendly and the result can be forgotten as soon as is convenient -- for example by next Wednesday, when Mexico plays the first match of 2013 that counts. The final 1-1 score flattered the Danes, who looked like a long shot to even put a shot on goal through most of the match. But as soon as next week, the result will be all that matters.
There are some nagging issues with Mexico’s formation and consistency of performance. El Tri is a team capable of producing constant scoring chances. But under de la Torre, even in a meaningless friendly against a mid-level European nation, they too often looked more like a team trying first not to lose, attacking with few numbers and only in fits and starts.
There’s a place for that approach -- last summer’s friendly win over Brazil for example, and much of the upcoming Confederations Cup.
But for a friendly against Denmark, going conservative was never going to pay dividends. The bottom line from Wednesday’s draw -- friendly or not -- is a reminder that El Tri needs to continue to concentrate against inferior opponents. In the Hexagonal, ties against lesser teams could quickly get Mexico into more trouble than it wants to be in.
Here are three other things we saw:
1. The wingers were effective, but the forwards were not
El Tri’s forward projection was thwarted by a too-defensive central midfield, with Hector Herrera staying too deep, and a pair of less mobile target men preventing quick offensive projection into the box.
That put the usual pressure to get forward on the wings, where Javier Aquino and -- to a lesser extent -- Angel Reyna were effective enough. Aquino’s finishing did leave something to be desired, but the Mexican wide players were successful time and time again in getting up the sidelines and creating danger.
The job of the forwards is to turn that danger into goals. Neither Oribe Peralta nor Aldo de Nigris was able to manage that on this night.
Obviously things will change when Chicharito returns to the fold. But we’ll continue to repeat here that the two-striker formation may not be the ideal for this group. Mexico’s offensive threat only really started to pick up in the second half when Marco Fabian came on for Peralta. The freewheeling Fabian was more successful at pulling the Danish central defenders away from the area and opening space to be filled with numbers in attack.
2. Experience over promise
The lineup proved that de la Torre still doesn’t think his young stars are ready. Neither Diego Reyes nor Jorge Enriquez saw the field -- at this point they’re both long shots to contribute significantly to the national team anytime soon.
Instead of Reyes, Hugo Ayala had a solid outing at center back next to Maza Rodriguez, and looks clearly like the third choice in the middle. In central midfield, for better or worse, de la Torre is sticking with the veteran leadership of Carlos Salcido.
With a tough year on tap, it’s easy to understand de la Torre’s approach. Reyes’ summer move to Porto could mean a short-term struggle to maintain form, and Enriquez without a doubt still needs some conditioning at the highest levels. But the young pair has proved their critics wrong at every turn. They won’t be able to do that for de la Torre unless they get a chance in games like this one.
3. Mexico’s wing backs are a fantastic weapon
A highlight for El Tri on the night was the play of Mexican wide defenders Paul Aguilar and Jorge Torres Nilo.
Always an able attacker, Aguilar looks these days like a more mature and confident defender. Back in the national-team picture after being consistently absent since the 2010 World Cup, he handled the physical Danish attackers with ease.
As for Torres Nilo, he’s quickly becoming one of El Tri’s more consistent, solid performers. The late penalty conceded was sloppy -- more a lack of concentration than anything else -- but overall Torres Nilo’s pairing with Aguilar out wide demonstrated that Mexico will continue to be dangerous up the flanks in more ways than one. In the battles with top teams to come, that could make a huge difference.