Five second-half goals spark shaky Mexico to Olympic victory over Fiji
Mexico came from behind to defeat Fiji 5-1 on Sunday in Salvador in the second round of Group C matches at Rio 2016.
Here are three points from a mixed performance for El Tri:
1. Gutierrez's four-goal tally helps Mexico storm back
The early goal Mexico was hoping for did indeed arrive, but Raul "Potro" Gutierrez and his team were not expecting it to be in Fiji's favor, as the team was roundly beaten 8-0 by Korea Republic in its Group C opener.
When Roy Krishna headed in past Mexico's stranded goalkeeper, Alfredo Talavera, in the 10th minute to send his side into raptures, it appeared a shock from which El Tri would dust itself down and calmly wrestle back control of the game.
Instead, it took Mexico 33 minutes to get a shot on target through Hirving Lozano, with its first legitimate opportunity coming 11 minutes later, just before halftime. The positive 2-2 draw in the opener against Germany had appeared to strengthen Mexico's medal credentials, but their first-half performance said otherwise.
The introduction of Monterrey midfielder Arturo "Ponchito" Gonzalez -- most likely in combination with some harsh words at halftime from coach Gutierrez -- helped Mexico better control the game and allowed Erick Gutierrez to play further forward. The passing became sharper after the break, and Gonzalez added a composure that was desperately missing in the first half.
Finally, the goals started flowing, as if coach Gutierrez had turned on a tap. Pachuca midfielder Gutierrez led the comeback with three goals in the first 13 minutes of the second half, and Fiji crumbled a little more each time the ball hit the back of the net.
The difference in fitness levels became more and more evident as the game wore on, and similarly to the match against Korea Republic, Fiji struggled as the match progressed. The result was more goals for Mexico, with Carlos Salcedo adding the fourth and Gutierrez the fifth to complete the win.
2. Warning signs must be heeded for El Tri
This was a wake-up call for El Tri against an island nation with fewer inhabitants than the sprawling city of Nezahualcoyotl (about the 10th-most populous city in Mexico).
The lack of composure and character in the team was worrying. When the chips were down in the first 45 minutes, there was a sense of panic, rather than a drive to take the game by the scruff of the neck and push forward.
The message will almost certainly be that there are no easy games at this level, but it was the lack of personality that Mexico showed that was concerning. The maturity to keep the ball, make Fiji chase and patiently wait for opportunities while nullifying the opposition simply wasn't there.
Then there was the error from Talavera -- arguably Mexico's best goalkeeper. Only he knows what he was doing coming outside of his penalty area for a high ball that posed no immediate threat. If anything, his error highlighted the lack of concentration that seemed to seep through the whole team.
Further forward, neither Oribe Peralta nor Marco Bueno got on the scoresheet. The strike partnership needs to be fed chances, and the midfield lacked a creative spark until Gonzalez came on.
The other disappointment was once again Lozano, who was subbed out at halftime. A player tipped for a move to Europe in the near future, the winger wasn't able to dominate a spirited but poor Fiji side. His tournament has yet to get going in the way he would have liked.
Other worries include Rodolfo Pizarro, who exited the pitch with a right ankle injury in the first half, and Peralta, who appeared to struggle with an injury despite completing the game.
It has been confirmed that both players will return to Mexico, with Raul Lopez (Pachuca) and Carlos Fierro (Queretaro) to replace them.
3. Must-win game against Korea Republic
With a loss against Korea Republic on Wednesday, Mexico will be out of Rio 2016, with its Olympic title defense ended at the group stage. The real games for this Mexico side are about to begin, and there will be no room for the luxury of an abysmal first half like the one against Fiji.
Korea Republic's goal difference will almost certainly be better than Mexico's, though a draw might be enough for El Tri, depending on the result between Korea Republic and Germany later Sunday.
Mexico will likely go into the final round of group matches as the favorite to advance, but Korea Republic should not be underestimated. Coach Gutierrez will have plenty to think about.
The first issue will be deciding whether Gonzalez's performance in the second half merits him a place in the starting XI for the crucial clash. Then there will be news about Pizarro's injury and what exactly went wrong with Talavera and Peralta, two overage players who were not up to speed against Fiji.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.