The tide seems to have well and truly turned for Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, with his Mexico side falling 2-0 Wednesday against a Neymar-inspired Brazil to end its Confederations Cup campaign after two consecutive defeats.
Not that Mexico didn’t have its chance. A more clinical side with a sharper offense would’ve finished off a Brazil team that was held loosely together by the leadership of David Luiz and the sheer brilliance of Barcelona-bound Neymar. It was another missed opportunity for Mexico and 2013 continues to be a year of negativity. The record now reads: 11 games, one win, eight ties and two defeats.
It is safe to now say that the jaunt to South America hasn’t been the necessary change of environment to lift El Tri out of its World Cup qualifying doom and gloom. Instead, more question marks have been raised about how Mexico is going to reach that “fifth game” at a World Cup, the quarterfinal, if it indeed does qualify for Brazil 2014.
We’ve seen little to argue that this Mexico team has it in it to go to the latter stages and that is disconcerting for a side that had major ambitions to become one of the competition’s dark horses after recent successes at youth level.
Giovani Dos Santos was the bright spark against Brazil, causing problems every time he got the ball and boosting his chances of finding a top European team. Gerardo Torrado and Carlos Salcido – with a combined total of over 250 caps - weren’t popular choices in the center of midfield, but they largely did their job, although there was never going to be much invention from a couple of defensive-minded players.
On the downside, Gerardo Flores was played out of position and looked lost for large swathes of the game as it passed him by and Hiram Mier was given the runaround by Neymar.
In off-the-field matters, mentions of Mexican players visiting strip joints after the Italy defeat hardly looks good under the strict disciplinarian De la Torre, although the coach denied all knowledge after the game.
The battle now is to regroup and reassess.
The first question to be raised is that of the coach.
The conservatism of Chepo belies the attacking talent at his disposal and isn’t based on a solid enough defense. Brazil attacked from the beginning, scored its goal and from then on Mexico was hampered by having two central midfielders who weren’t supporting offensive plays. In general, Brazil’s defense looked shaky – Luiz aside – and it was Mexico’s impotence in creating that handed the Selecao the victory.
Why wasn’t a second striker thrown on until the 87th minute? Why did Mexico manage so few shots on goal? Is there really a future in the Salcido-Torrado partnership in the middle of the field for a side that has real World Cup ambitions?
All these are legitimate questions and ones the bigwigs at the Mexican soccer federation (FMF) will be forced to mull over.
What will likely save De la Torre, at least for now, is that the team didn’t crumble, players didn’t drop their heads and kept fighting until the end. Then there is the mediocrity of CONCACAF, which sees a horribly out-of-form Mexico sitting in third position.
“In qualifying we are in third place. At the moment we're in (the World Cup),” Chepo stated after the Brazil game. “The main thing is qualification.”
The problem for him is that fans’ expectations are – rightly or wrongly – much higher than scraping into the World Cup and not making any impact on tournaments such as the Confederations Cup. It remains to be seen how far the FMF’s patience will run.
The vultures are circling and Saturday’s game against Japan suddenly has real importance, for all the wrong reasons.
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