What really happened in Mexico’s final World Cup match Sunday versus Argentina? The tense run is over, el Tri have abandoned their South African base, the critics have given their immediate reaction, and with the benefit of a full day to reflect, it is time to take a tequila free look at how close the difference between fiesta and funeral actually was.
Rather sounds like real life. World Cups are like that are they not?
First and foremost, Mexico does not have to apologize to anyone for the footballing quality of their players. Onlookers who know the game are quick to recognize the individual skills and abilities of each player on the seleccion. In this World Cup, Mexico was strong in every part of their game in all areas of the field.
There is lots of talk this group represent Mexico’s “golden generation” but the truth is the country has been producing exceptional talents for years. If you doubt that, it seems I recall respected Brazilian youth coach Carlos Cesar Ramos, something like 10 years ago saying Mexico comes closer to anyone duplicating the Brazilian flare for the game. Pele himself, while doing color commentary coverage for Mexican television during USA 94, repeatedly marveled at Mexican skill. Argentina’s professor of the game Cesar Menotti has been a long time booster of Mexico’s futbol quality.
Three mistakes kept El Tri from going further than they ever have in World Cup tournaments.
Like the message great Yankee catcher Yogi Berra delivered in one of his humorously contorted, impactful Berraisms, “90% of the game is half mental.” Only three mental mistakes stood between Mexico and at least a Quarter Final appearance.
For the first, we have to go back to the final group stage match. It was a major blunder by coach Javier Aguirre. Like all errors, difficult to explain, but my guess is the coach conjured the match against Uruguay as an opportunity to show the world some brilliant maneuvering. A personality fault? A weak moment? Definitely a mistake.
Aguirre’s error in judgment cost Mexico the opportunity of finishing first in their group and moving on to a lesser opponent than Argentina in group play. More than anything else, losing to Uruguay by the minimum score annulled any momentum the team had built from its convincing victory over France. Mexico went into the round of 16 full of self doubt where confidence is the most needed commodity.
More than anything, this Aguirre error magnified the failure of the coach to use the three group stage matches to establish continuity and rhythm in his “best team” alignment. An essential ingredient for the knockout stages.
What the officiating mistake did to Mexico
Error number two was that unbelievable piece of officiating which allowed the ice breaking goal versus Argentina to stand. The Tevez non-goal is well established but what did it do?
With Aguirre coming to his senses, player selection and tactical alignment was working well. Argentina strengths were being dealt with and defensive weakness exploited with two near misses. When the entire team swarmed the linesman to protest, they lost their collective head and that lead to error number three.
The only way to describe the third and final error – Osorio’s misguided pass picked off for a gifted second goal – is to call it a brain fart caused by a mind still replaying the non-goal incident. Nothing more said.
It was not until the break that Aguirre could work on settling his troops and getting them to re-focus their minds. To his credit, the coach did a wonderful job of that and to their credit, the players responded.
But, as everyone knows, when you have to chase the game, any team is vulnerable to the killer goal and that is what happened. Of course the 3 – 1 score line doesn’t look good but the match wasn’t that bad.
Be sure, the team that beats Argentina in this tournament will be thanking Javier Aguirre and Mexico for writing the tactical road map they followed.
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