Mexico grind down Honduras to seal historic victory
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- Mexico's 50-year wait for a victory in San Pedro Sula and 22-year winless drought in Honduras are over.
Second-half strikes from young Mexico wingers Jesus "Tecatito" Corona and Jurgen Damm ended Honduras' hegemony over El Tri in a 2-0 victory in the fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Tuesday at the Estadio Olimpico.
Here are three rapid takes from Mexico's historic win:
1. Corona, Damm sprinkle magic on Osorio's tinkering
During this current FIFA international break, there will be few goals as good as Corona's 67th-minute strike and not many more that will match Damm's 72nd-minute tally. They were special moments in a game that had lacked quality up until that point.
But the bedrock of Mexico's victory was head coach Juan Carlos Osorio's formation and the way he set up his team. Four center backs -- Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes, Oswaldo Alanis and Hugo Ayala -- started for Mexico, leaving many scratching their heads as to how the team would line up.
As soon as the game kicked off, it became obvious. Osorio played with a defensive line of five, with Miguel Layun and Alanis as the wing backs. The team used a 5-2-3 formation, with Javier Aquino on the left wing and Raul Jimenez on the right.
Mexico went out and played like so many teams did successfully in 2013 against it in the Estadio Azteca. El Tri waited, stayed patient, attempted to play the ball around and in doing so frustrated a Honduras side that was restricted to just a couple of long-range shots. The tactic also wore the home side down and quieted the fans.
It fell to substitutes Corona and Damm to wrap up a famous victory for Mexico with moments of sheer quality, but the real work had been done beforehand in grinding Honduras down.
Osorio came out as the hero, the manager who finally was able to end Mexico's abysmal run in the Estadio Olimpico -- one of CONCACAF's most fearsome and intimidating venues. He'd got the initial tactics right and then both his substitutes scored within minutes of entering the pitch.
It seems Osorio's reign will be like this: if he makes changes and gets results, he'll be heralded as a genius. If not, he'll be ridiculed by the Mexican press.
For now, at least, Osorio's stock is riding sky-high.
2. Atmosphere dictates scrappy game
"Don't let El Tri out alive," read the headline in one of the local papers. Inside the stadium, the passion and desire to defeat Mexico was intense. It clearly means a lot for Honduras fans to get one over on their northern rivals.
That could be seen in the Honduran players. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto asked for "aggressiveness" from his players in stopping Mexico's football on the eve of the game, and they didn't disappoint, carrying out his instructions with aplomb.
Within the first three minutes, there had already been four fouls, and by halftime, the game had been stopped 20 times for free kicks. Every time Hector Herrera or Andres Guardado got the ball in Mexico's midfield, it seemed a hard Honduran tackle was just a millisecond away. But Mexico held their own in the physicality department.
Ironically, it was an accidental clash between Aquino and Honduras' Luis Garrido that provided the talking point of the first half. Off balance, Aquino crashed into Garrido on the ground, and the videos doing the social network rounds were brutal; Garrido has almost definitely broken his leg and will be out for a long time.
Hector Moreno was involved in a constant battle with Rubilio Castillo, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez was elbowed by Maynor Figueroa and only received a yellow, while Guardado was constantly chastising the referee. Johnny Palacios also miraculously stayed on the pitch after taking down Corona in the second half.
With the temperature above 90 degrees Fahrenheit at kickoff and humidity around 75 percent -- the grass on the pitch long and the crowd braying Mexico -- this was never going to be the purest expression of the beautiful game.
El Tri got out alive, with its dignity intact and a valuable three points.
3. Mexico ends bizarre 2015 in style
If someone had said at the start of 2015 that the year would end with Colombian Osorio in charge of the national team, few would have believed it.
Once again, it has been a roller-coaster of a year for El Tri. The main goals have been reached, with Mexico winning the Gold Cup and the CONCACAF Cup and thereby qualifying for the Confederations Cup in 2017 in Russia. And now El Tri has six points from two games in World Cup qualifying.
Mixed in between all that, Miguel Herrera was fired for allegedly punching a TV commentator, Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti swooped in as an intern for four matches and Osorio eventually took over the baton. In the Mexican federation, there were also changes, the most notable of which was Justin Compean replacing Decio de Maria as president.
El Tri fans and the Mexican federation will be hoping for a more stable 2016, but don't put your money on it.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.