Another World Cup qualifier, another useful result for Mexico’s national team, which traveled to Trinidad and Tobago and claimed a 1-0 win that wasn’t as close as the score suggested on Tuesday.
The three points, coupled with Costa Rica’s 1-1 tie with Honduras earlier in the day, put Mexico in first place in CONCACAF’s final phase of qualifying, overtaking the Ticos. Through four of 10 games, Mexico is the last undefeated team, having won three times and tied once.
Mexico, as you’ll no doubt recall, began this final round of qualifiers with a late-won 2-1 victory in Columbus, Ohio over the United States, the beginning of a crisis for the U.S. national team. Four days later, Juan Carlos Osorio’s typically efficient El Tri was held to a 0-0 tie in Panama. But in this latest set of qualifiers, Mexico beat Costa Rica 2-0 at home in a game in which the eventual winners clearly cruised through the second half. And the Soca Warriors could plainly have been beaten by a few more goals Tuesday, had a few bounces on the rotten field gone the visitors’ way.
That said, T&T was robbed of a good goal that would have put it in the lead after the half hour and changed the complexion of the game completely. Joevin Jones, of the Seattle Sounders, was played through cleanly on the left. He smashed the ball through the arms of the helpless goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera. But he was inexplicably called offside when he was on by at least a foot.
That was the highlight of a credible first half by Trinidad, which got its qualifying campaign started in earnest with a 1-0 win over Panama on Friday for its first points of the round but remains in sixth and last place.
Yet Mexico’s victory was deserved on account of the superior number of chances it created. It began when Carlos Salcedo swung in a big cross that Hector Moreno got a good header on in the eighth minute. But goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams saved well.
In the second half, Mexico got serious about sourcing a winner in the half-empty Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain. Hector Herrera won a ball high up the field and curled his shot off the far post on a bounce from outside the box.
Then, in the 58th minute, Diego Reyes bagged his first goal for Mexico. Miguel Layun’s zippy corner found Reyes, whose hard header beat Williams.
The beleaguered Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez would get a few chances to put the game away, and further banish his recent scoring slump – after getting the winner over Costa Rica. He had a wide-open shot in the 64th minute from a promising spot but couldn’t trouble Williams. And he was dispatched brilliantly by substitute Carlos Vela a few minutes later, but Hernandez stumbled as he tried to apply the finish.
Mexico cruises on, and will finish the fourth match day at least six points above the fourth place – and playoff spot – it had to settle for four years ago on the road to Brazil. The path to Russia in 2018 has proved a great deal smoother and straighter. Whereas El Tri barely scraped into the last World Cup, courtesy of a late equalizer on the final day of games by the U.S. against Panama, and via a playoff with New Zealand, a seventh straight berth at soccer’s biggest tournament looks much simpler for Mexico.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.