Mexico hoping corner has been turned with Japan win

Posted by Andrea Canales

El Tri didn't start well, but they improved -- and this could be the theme for both Mexico's overall performance in the Confederations Cup and their exit from the tournament, as they claimed a 2-1 victory over Japan.

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The knives were out for the already-eliminated Mexico in their final game as they started slowly and a bit aimlessly. All the usual criticisms applied: Gerardo Torrado looked too slow, Andres Guardado wasn't crossing effectively, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez lacked service and only Giovani dos Santos looked effective. The speed and skill on display by the Samurai Blue looked to doom Mexico to another loss or draw. Excellent interventions and saves by Guillermo "Memo" Ochoa kept El Tri from conceding during that period.

However, after surviving the energy of Japan's attacks in the first half-hour, Mexico righted the ship. As the team's passing game improved, it blunted the effectiveness of Japan's running attack, since the Japanese players were forced into chasing the ball more than creating attacks.

Suddenly, it didn't seem as if most of the Mexican team was watching Dos Santos; they were playing alongside him. When El Tri plays well, the angles and the opportunities open up as the ball switches neatly across and around the field. Though the first half finished scoreless, it was clear by the time the whistle blew for the break that Mexico was the dominant squad hunting down the win.

The goals which needed to make that happen came from Hernandez, of course. In the 54th minute, Guardado swung in a lovely cross to the danger zone in front of the goal. It was just the type of ball that was perfectly placed for Hernandez. Just as importantly, there were teammates running into the box as well, keeping the Japanese defense from collapsing on just one attacker. Hernandez beat his marker and finished off the cross with a perfect header.

About ten minutes later, a similar play developed. This time, Dos Santos sent in a corner, which Hiram Mier managed to flick on to Hernandez, who powered a downward-angled header past the helpless goalkeeper.

Though a late goal helped the score seem respectable for Japan, Mexico was clearly in control of the match. Hernandez even had an opportunity for a penalty kick and hat trick to become third on El Tri's all-time goal-scoring list, but a save and a kick to the crossbar denied him.

"In all aspects, the group has shown well," head coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre said after the match in a television interview.

"The goals are the result of the team, not just a single person," Hernandez explained in an interview of his own.

A few problems remain, however, even after Mexico's second win of the year. The first one is that in both matches where Mexico has played its best this year -- versus Japan and Nigeria -- nothing really has been at stake.

After the Nigeria friendly, many were convinced that Mexico's 2013 jitters were conquered, but sadly, that was proven not to be the case when another scoreless draw in Azteca resulted not long after.

Now the match versus Japan revives a similar hope. It's possible that Mexico has indeed put the pieces together, that it hasn't been a waste to stick with de la Torre after all, since better times are ahead of the corner that has finally been turned.

It turned out to be that way in the game. Mexico didn't start well, but once they got going, they displayed much of their squad's talent and ability. This should give the players confidence for the future games that matter.

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