Monday, 6 June 2016
Mexico show title credentials in thrilling Copa win over Uruguay
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Two late goals from Mexico helped the CONCACAF nation to a 3-1 victory over Uruguay in its Copa America Centenario Group C opener.
Goals from Rafa Marquez and Hector Herrera handed Mexico a vital three points, with Diego Godin having leveled in the second half, after Uruguayan defender Alvaro Pereira had given Mexico an early lead with an own goal.
Here are three quick takes from a memorable game at University of Phoenix Stadium:
1. Marquez helps Mexico take the spoils
If there was a sense that the Copa America needed a match to really spark it into life, it got it on Sunday.
Only four goals had been scored over the first five games in the tournament, but Mexico's victory over Uruguay showed exactly what this combined CONCACAF/CONMEBOL tournament can and should be.
The selection of Rafa Marquez in Mexico's squad had been criticized ahead of this tournament, but the 37-year-old -- Mexico's most successful player in terms of titles in Europe -- was the star of the show.
Marquez played an inch-perfect ball out wide for Andres Guardado to cross for Pereira to put into his own goal for El Tri's opener and netted the vital second himself in the 85th minute.
With this game billed as the battle for top spot in Group C, El Tri came racing out of the blocks, suffocating Uruguay's attempts to start attacks and threatening consistently during the first half. Things went from bad to worse for Uruguay when Matias Vecino was sent off for his second yellow in the 45th.
At that point, it seemed that Uruguay wasn't so much missing Luis Suarez as lacking any idea or philosophy, as if it was a hastily put-together team and not one of the favorites for this tournament.
Few would've given 10-man Uruguay serious hope after halftime, but the 2011 Copa America winner showed exactly why it is considered a contender for the cup by wresting control of the game from Mexico.
Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godin did what he has done so often for club and country and rose to head in from a free kick to level the score, with Mexico also going down to 10 when Andres Guardado was sent off for the foul that led to the goal in the 74th.
Had Diego Rolan netted an easy chance earlier on the hour mark, things could've been very different for Uruguay, but Mexico refused to back down.
Marquez proved to be the unlikely difference-maker in a very good game. In the end, this was a huge win for Mexico and one which leaves the path open for El Tri to finish atop Group C and avoid Argentina in the quarterfinal stage, should the Albiceleste finish first in Group D as expected.
2. El Tri realistic title contenders, but must improve
Mexico's first-half display was something to behold and that is no exaggeration. Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio once again employed a 3-4-3 (diamond) formation, and the side not only stifled Uruguay, but also looked sharp going forward, especially down the flanks through wingers Javier Aquino and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona.
The players looked full of confidence, as should be expected when a side extends an undefeated streak to 20 games (one off of El Tri's all-time record). The triangles between the back three, the four midfielders in front, combined with the two wingers and Javier Hernandez seemed to confuse Uruguay, whose players didn't seem to know who they were supposed to mark at any given point.
This was a Mexico team recycling the ball at pace, playing out from the back boldly, dominating possession and exciting the fans in the stadium. It was exactly the type of football they had paid to come to see and the kind of performance Pep Guardiola would've loudly applauded.
The question then is this: What happened after halftime?
The introduction of Alvaro Gonzalez strengthened the Uruguay midfield and the South American team, even playing a man down, pressed forward with much more conviction, but Mexico wilted.
There were nervous moments from set pieces and from goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera, who was sharp in saving from Edinson Cavani in the first half, but out of position from crosses on occasion in the second.
What we saw overall suggests Mexico is a realistic contender to win the Copa America -- especially with the fervent backing of the fans in Arizona -- but the second half was a reminder that Osorio still has work to do and absolutely nothing should be taken for granted, even in the supposedly easier Group C games to come against Jamaica and Venezuela.
The real positive though was the reaction from the Mexico players after Uruguay leveled and El Tri went down to 10 men. And leading it all was captain Marquez, who is still an important cog in Mexico's side.
3. Uruguay in need of Suarez with no room for error
With only three games in this competition's group stage, Uruguay can't afford to slip up against Venezuela in Philadelphia next Thursday and may also have to win the final match against Jamaica to advance.
This was a strange performance from Uruguay. At times in the first half it was completely outplayed and even the center-back partnership of Jose Maria Gimenez and Godin -- the rock of Atletico Madrid and Uruguay -- seemed shaky.
The good news is that Suarez is likely to return in one of the next two group matches, bringing not just one of the world's very best players, but also the inspirational leader and standard bearer for Uruguayan football. The whole squad and nation will get a lift when the doctors give him the green light.
On Sunday, the Barcelona forward could be seen giving out instructions on the touchline, and it isn't a stretch to suggest it would've been a different result had Suarez played, given the chances Uruguay created in the second half.
The Uruguay team seemed to thrive in adversity on Sunday, with the crowd against it. Indeed, it played its best soccer while down to 10 men and facing Mexico's 11, before Guardado got sent off.
But there is no other way of categorizing Uruguay's night as anything but a failure. The good news is that it is still likely to advance from a relatively weak group. And there is nothing to suggest it won't be a handful in the knockout rounds, especially with Suarez back.