Mixed night for Mexico against Portugal
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bruno Alves' winner in second-half injury time condemned Mexico to a 1-0 defeat in its final World Cup warm-up match against Portugal, after the team had played its best 45 minutes in head coach Miguel Herrera's short spell in charge of the team.
Herrera will undoubtedly have been the happier coach up until that point and there were tentative reasons to be positive about Mexico's chances in Brazil.
El Tri's second-half performance -- in front of over 55,000 in Gillette Stadium -- put Portugal on the back foot and substitute Alan Pulido should've edged Mexico into the lead when he was put through one-on-one with Portugal keeper Eduardo in the 89th minute.
Before that, at least one of Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera or Oribe Peralta should have scored with the chances created after the break.
"We have to take our chances," said Herrera in the post-game press conference. "We've lost because of that."
But there were also moments that emphasized that this Mexico team is still very much a work in progress.
Herrera still doesn't know who will start in goal against Cameroon, handing Jesus Corona and Guillermo Ochoa 45 minutes each against FIFA's fourth-ranked team.
And Alves was completely unmarked when he headed in the winner.
In an ideal world, another few warm-up games before the big event are required (which team wouldn't say that?), but Mexico's World Cup preparation was always going to be wedded to that decision in October to employ Herrera, which necessitated a rushed change in both formation, playing philosophy and player personnel.
Mexico edged possession and shaded the chances on Friday.
Guardado's shot from the edge of the penalty area with the outside of his right boot passed just inches wide of Eduardo's left-hand post in the 55th minute.
Five minutes earlier, Hector Herrera -- who was a bright spark throughout and Mexico's man of the match -- attempted a chip from inside the box when a cross would've been better.
Peralta stuttered all evening, spawning a second-half chance and failing to link up well with Giovani dos Santos. The attack improved noticeably when Javier Hernandez came on in the 58th minute.
In defense, there were plenty of warning signs before Alves struck, with the understanding between the unit of Paul Aguilar, Francisco Rodriguez, Rafa Marquez, Hector Moreno and Miguel Layun still developing.
Eder ghosted in to win a free header in the 40th and two minutes later Layun was dragged in-field to leave Nani free to burst down the right wing, from where he should've done better.
Herrera certainly got a real picture of exactly where his team is at against Portugal, even if the European nation was without Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Raul Meireles.
"This tour has given me some very good conclusions," said Herrera. "I liked the starting XI today."
Rodriguez stood up to the challenge with the pressure on him and Diego Reyes pushing hard for a starting spot. Jose Juan Vazquez gave an honest display, while Guardado will likely start in Brazil in the attacking midfield spot that he grew into as the game went on.
The next time this Mexico team takes to the field, it will be in a must-win game in Natal against Cameroon on Friday at Brazil 2014. There are good signs that the team can pick up the three points and can advance from Group A, but the game against Portugal was typical of how Mexico has fallen out of recent World Cups: going down to quality opposition after a battling performance.
That is a worry for Herrera and Mexico fans.