Last time Mexico played Martinique in the Gold Cup was almost 20 years ago to the day and El Tri ran riot in a 9-0 victory. Luis Roberto Alves grabbed seven goals.
It wasn’t long ago that El Tri’s army of fans would have hoped for a similar demolition of the Caribbean side this Sunday in Denver, but considering the problems Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre’s misfiring side has had this year, the most rational would’ve settled for the 3-1 victory to send Mexico into the Gold Cup quarterfinals.
Lingering problems persisted and Mexico failed to bury the game until a 90th minute goal from Miguel Ponce, but the win is more breathing space for a manager under pressure.
It was a bright start from Mexico, which threatened to overwhelm Martinique in the first 10 minutes, with Miguel Layun bursting down the right wing frequently and Marco Fabian playing with focus and penetration on the left.
Raul Jimenez should’ve perhaps done better from an exquisitely weighted pass from Layun in the 7th minute and there were other opportunities that Mexico managed to squander.
When Fabian put El Tri 1-0 up in the 21st and Luis Montes netted with a fine long-range effort just 13 minutes later, it looked like it was El Tri’s day and that the team would go on to win comfortably, perhaps with an avalanche of goals to pump some confidence through a squad that has been heavily criticized in the Mexican media.
A bit of the fluidity in the final third seemed to be back, perhaps aided by Martinique playing with two strikers, which left Mexico the kind of space in the midfield that the team hasn’t had to work with recently.
The only negative in the final third was Rafa Marquez Lugo having one of his worst games in a Mexico shirt, but the attitude and energy of Fabian, Montes and Jimenez made up for the off-form Chivas forward’s no-show.
But the demons crept back and Layun went from hero to villain when he gave away a needless penalty right before halftime to give Martinique hope of getting a famous result.
To be fair to the Club America right back, he wasn’t the only one culpable of grave individual errors in that first half, it was just that his mistake led to Martinique’s goal.
For example, goalkeeper Moises Munoz had the ball stolen off him at the corner flag in the 11th and Martinique should’ve capitalized and, one minute later, Juan Carlos Valenzuela inexplicably failed to control the ball and gifted Martinique its best chance of the game.
After halftime, the defense tightened up, but the offense lost its sharpness, making for a frustrating 45 minutes. Getting the team as a whole to function well once again eluded El Tri, but the coach rightly pointed out that the overall performance was an improvement on both the dismal 2-1 loss against Panama and last Thursday’s 2-0 win over Canada.
De la Torre’s squad will fly to Atlanta on Monday to prepare for next Saturday’s quarterfinal. The coach will be under no illusions that plenty of improvement is still required if El Tri is to win its third consecutive Gold Cup.