Mexico's comeback win over New Zealand is one to forget
SOCHI, Russia -- Three quick thoughts from Mexico's 2-1 win over New Zealand in the group stage of the Confederations Cup on Wednesday.
1. A win to forget for Mexico
Mexico 2-1 New Zealand. It certainly doesn't read like the convincing scoreline El Tri fans were hoping for and there was very little of comfort for them, apart from Mexico scraping by and earning the three points.
Chris Wood put New Zealand into the lead three minutes before half-time and there was nothing fortunate about the side being in front at the break. Mexico rallied in the second half and leveled through Raul Jimenez in the 54th minute. Oribe Peralta netted in the 72nd to win the game, but El Tri was poor and survived a late scare when New Zealand's Ryan Thomas hit the crossbar in the 85th.
With Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio only retaining Carlos Salcedo, Diego Reyes and Raul Jimenez from the game against Portugal on Sunday, there were glaring problems for Mexico which New Zealand exposed, especially through aerial plays and balls over the defense.
If there was a positive for Mexico, it was Javier Aquino, whose runs down the left wing caused problems all night for opposition right-back Dane Ingham. But after the Tigres winger, there wasn't much to really applaud from El Tri.
There was very little chemistry in their ranks and there were also injuries to Hector Moreno and Salcedo -- who was taken to a hospital with a reported dislocated shoulder.
The game came to an end with players scrapping and an enraged Osorio having to be held back by substitute Hirving Lozano. This was all-round a match to forget for Mexico, even if the result turned out to be favorable after a tough night's work in front of 25,000 in Fisht Stadium.
Next up for Mexico is Russia in Kazan in a game that will likely decide which advances from Group A. El Tri will simply have to improve against the host.
2. Mexico come down from Portugal high
The last-gasp goal to level against Portugal on Sunday seemed to represent a high, and some evidence that Mexico can go toe-to-toe with elite teams. But Wednesday's game against New Zealand was a reminder that there are still gaping weaknesses in El Tri. Question about how Osorio's rotations will work in major tournaments, where the turn-around between games are short, will continue to be asked.
The Colombian coach will be grilled by fans and the Mexican media asking why he chose to make eight changes from the side that started against Portugal and why there was another formation change, this time from a 4-3-3 to a 3-1-4-2.
The lack of chemistry was obvious from the first whistle. El Tri lacked fluidity in possession, Peralta and Jimenez -- neither the quickest -- up front threatened very little. By half-time, New Zealand had attempted more shots than Mexico, more shots on goal and had the better chances. The All Whites fully deserved their lead, even if they'd had much less possession than Mexico.
At the back, the smooth transition playing out from defense was non-existent, while Diego Reyes in the holding role didn't work. Osorio likely wanted to counter New Zealand's aerial threat, but he neutralized Mexico's strengths in the process. El Tri simply looked like a side that hadn't played together before.
The introduction of Hector Herrera at half-time offered a solution to Mexico's slack passing. The Porto player zipped the ball around and provided the vital link in front of the defense. He came on and made the team tick.
But that very fact also seems to highlight the problem with rotations and raises the question of whether Mexico has the strength in depth to be swapping eight players from one game to the next. El Tri managed to dig itself out its first-half hole in the end, but better teams than 95th-ranked New Zealand won't leave Mexico standing.
3. New Zealand show improvement
New Zealand manager Anthony Hudson described his team as being "devastated" by the 2-0 opening-game loss against Russia. The All Whites believed they could get a result against the hosts, but more than anything that they'd failed to turn up in what should've been the easiest game in the group.
Hudson's teams showed a different and altogether more positive face on Wednesday. Mexico was poor, but that was partly because New Zealand pressed intelligently, was comfortable when in possession and the dynamic between the classic big and little forward duo of Wood and Rojas showed consistent promise.
El Tri never looked comfortable. Even when Mexico improved in the second half, New Zealand continued to threaten, with Wood going through once in the 53rd and the team rallying late on.
The side will and should be disappointed not to get anything from the match. This was a performance of merit and one that bodes well moving forward. But it was also a missed opportunity to win a first ever game in an official FIFA tournament.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.