The good, the bad ...
Mexico advances, but there are lingering questions
Posted: Sunday July 1, 2007 10:53PM; Updated: Tuesday July 3, 2007 5:50PM
Another opponent, another victory.
For all the questions that plagued Mexico during the CONCACAF Gold Cup, El Tri continues to pile up victories.
Granted, El Tri fell short when it counted the most -- against the U.S. in last week's Gold Cup final -- but Mexico is showing no ill effects from losing out on the regional crown and the 2009 Confederations Cup.
A 2-1 win over Ecuador on Sunday sent Mexico through to the Copa América quarterfinals. With a win or draw over Chile on Wednesday, El Tri will win Group B and move on to a knockout match against Group C's second-place side, most likely Argentina or Paraguay.
Mexico's 2-0 victory over Brazil on Wednesday silenced many critics and Sunday's triumph is certain to continue to draw rave reviews.
And while some aspects of the match stood out, there remain several areas that need clarification if Mexico is to claim its first Copa América championship. Whether or not Mexico's plusses and minuses cancel each other out or lead to Copa glory will determine how Mexico enters the next phase of this World Cup cycle.
PLUS: Oswaldo Sánchez played a stellar game in goal. He made several clutch saves in the second half when Mexico was up 1-0. The former Chivas de Guadalajara standout showed why he has been a part of three World Cup teams and why he has been the unquestioned first-choice 'keeper for much of the last four years.
The only blemish was courtesy of a defensive error and a fluky bounce. Edison Méndez ripped a 20-yard shot that deflected off Jonny Magallón and into the back of the net. Otherwise, Sánchez stopped all Ecuadorian shots he faced.
MINUS: Where was Guillermo Ochoa? After a startling performance against Brazil, Ochoa was inexplicably on the bench against Ecuador. With all due respect, if Ochoa stopped everything Brazil had to offer, certainly he could have turned away whatever the Ecuadorians had for him.
If Hugo Sánchez's goal is to best prepare for the 2010 World Cup, it would seem Ochoa would be best suited to start every meaningful match from now on. But if the Mexican coach is set on slowly building the team by succeeding in tournaments from now until then, he may continue to count on "San Oswaldo."
PLUS: Omar Bravo put away a goal as Mexico refused to sit back and protect its 1-0 lead. Cuauhtémoc Blanco did well to cross a ball from the right flank into the center of the box and the Clausura 2007 leading scorer buried the ball into the back of the net.
Bravo's finishing touch is much needed on El Tri, and his effort Sunday ultimately was the game-winner. Had Mexico been content with a one-goal lead, perhaps the result would have been different against Ecuador.
MINUS: Can we expect similar efforts from Bravo from now on? A year ago, Bravo seemed to have finally broken through on the national team. Bravo first made real noise in the Clausura 2003 season with a 12-goal campaign but has long been an enigma with El Tri. He scored two goals in a friendly against Paraguay in March 2006, then scored two goals against Iran in the World Cup opener. But all that progress essentially vanished when Bravo sailed a penalty kick over the crossbar in a 2-1 loss to Portugal.
An effective Bravo would give Sánchez another option in an attractive stable of forwards. Juan Carlos Cacho has played well in two games at Copa America and Nery Castillo is the real deal. With Carlos Vela on the way, Bravo would be just another weapon for Sánchez to throw at opposing teams. But if Bravo's best is saved for his club, then he will continue to be a frustrating forward.
PLUS: Mexico has not quite elevated its play in two games thus far, but that's merely nitpicking. El Tri's 2-0 triumph over Brazil would have been difficult to duplicate against Ecuador. Still, the manner in which Mexico followed it up was impressive. Mexico regressed in its second game in the Gold Cup by losing to Honduras 2-1.
But now, Mexico seems to have found its footing. El Tri showed consistency in its lineup as this particular squad seems best suited to pull results going forward, the Ochoa-Sánchez debate notwithstanding. With Rafael Márquez seemingly 100 percent match-fit, Gerardo Torrado providing force and stability in the midfield and Castillo continuing to impress up top, Mexico seemingly has a strong foundation at each area of the field.
MINUS: The knockout stages loom. First, Mexico must deal with Chile and needs to avoid a letdown. But after that, these strong efforts need to pay off with results. Mexico has often shown the ability to play at a high level but has not followed up with victories. Against Argentina in last summer's World Cup, Mexico put forth a fantastic effort but it went for naught as El Tri fell in extra time, 2-1. In the 2005 Confederations Cup, Mexico stunned Brazil but lost to both Argentina and Germany later on in the tournament despite a pair of grand efforts.
In the Copa América, Sánchez and Mexico are at the level of play where they want it. But if this is as good as it gets, Mexican fans are in for a long and tumultuous World Cup cycle.