Mexico got 2014 off to a perfect start on Wednesday, defeating Korea Republic 4-0 on a shoddy pitch in front of over 54,000 in San Antonio’s Alamodome.
It was a night that at times threatened to turn into one of those turgid friendly games in which you can tell players haven’t played together before, a number of substitutions are made and it all turns a little flat.
But Alan Pulido’s two late goals to secure a debut hat trick ensured it wasn’t and coach Miguel Herrera will have learned some valuable lessons about his players.
Where else to start but with 22-year-old Pulido, who looked the part in a Mexico shirt, scoring three goals and oozing confidence?
The Tigres player improved significantly in 2013 and has the all-round game to move ahead of Raul Jimenez and Aldo de Nigris in the strikers’ pecking order between now and June.
He’s got that touch of arrogance, yet appears to be well-liked by other players and scores both scrappy and spectacular goals.
In midfield, Carlos Pena only played 45 minutes, but once again was the dynamo for Mexico and at the heart of most good things that happened for El Tri in the first half.
His role in Herrera’s system means he is now a key player for Mexico.
Out at left wing back, Toluca’s Miguel Ponce set up Oribe Peralta for El Tri’s opener and was very bright in his play. He seems to have put an awful 2013 with Chivas behind him and looks like the same player who can boast an Olympic gold medal among his possessions.
It means there is now an almighty battle for the left wing back role, with Miguel Layun, Ponce, Jorge Torres Nilo and Andres Guardado all strong candidates.
Another Toluca player also took his chance to shine on Wednesday. Isaac Brizuela’s best moment came in dribbling through the Korea Republic defense to set up Pulido’s third, but he was a bright spark throughout, covering a lot of ground over the 90 minutes.
The only doubt over Brizuela is if the attacking midfield position is his best moving forward.
The Francisco Rodriguez, Rafa Marquez and Diego Reyes partnership didn’t look solid in the first half.
A freek ick in the 24thminute caused problems and then a corner two minutes later gave Korea another chance, with Marquez lucky not to be penalized for holding.
Early on, Marquez looked very slow when he engaged in a one-on-one race to the ball with a Korean forward, while Reyes gave the ball away, was sloppy in his general defending and did little to ease concerns that not playing in Portugal’s top division will hurt his general form leading up to the World Cup.
The center back positions are a worry, especially with Reyes below par, and if there is one Europe-based player guaranteed a place in Brazil, it has to be Espanyol’s Hector Moreno. The defense badly needs him.
Elsewhere, teenage debutant Rodolfo Pizarro did little wrong in the right wing back position, but was overshadowed by Pulido and Brizuela and it looks like his time will be moving towards Russia 2018, rather than Brazil this summer.
Finally, in the holding midfield role, Jose Juan Vazquez has to force his way past Juan Carlos Medina for a starting spot and while he didn’t have a bad game, it also wasn’t the authoritative display he would’ve been hoping for.