Mexico rescues win against tricky El Salvador with three second-half goals
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- Mexico came back from a half-time deficit to defeat El Salvador 3-1 on Friday in World Cup qualifying at Estadio Cuscatlan in El Tri's first game since the 7-0 loss to Chile in the quarterfinal of the Copa America Centenario.
Here are three points from the match:
1. Nervous reaction to 7-0, but El Tri gets the job done
El Salvador coach Ramon Maradiaga was initially right in his pre-match statement that Mexico was "still carrying the pain" of the 7-0 loss against Chile. La Selecta and its fans smelled blood, chanting "siete a cero" as El Tri's bus came into the stadium.
On the field, El Salvador gave Mexico a shakedown so severe that questions about Juan Carlos Osorio's future as Mexico manager were whispered in the makeshift press box. La Selecta just didn't quite have the quality to finish the job and respond to Mexico's increase in intensity in the second half.
Osorio spoke before the game about having "trust" in the players and the "credibility" of Mexican football, and a little was regained. Although El Salvador fans don't need reminding that their team -- now out of World Cup qualifying -- is in a different league in terms of talent, infrastructure and organization.
El Salvador's Alexander Larin lifting a Panenka over goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the 23rd minute wouldn't have been a thing the Granada keeper would have conjured up in even his worst nightmares, but it happened.
Jorge Torres Nilo raised his hand in the penalty area and the American referee gave El Salvador the call. The reaction from fans inside the stadium as the ball hit the back of the net befitted that of a team that hasn't won for a very long time and whose football has been wrapped up in scandal and corruption. The local press said El Salvador fans wouldn't turn up, but the stadium was 80 percent full, more with the hope of an upset than in expectation.
In the first half, El Salvador was hungry; Mexico was nervous. The atmosphere was always going to be hostile. Osorio, who repeated the 4-3-3 formation that failed spectacularly against Chile, urged his players beforehand to see the match as an opportunity to put the Mexican side on track.
2. Was it going to be writing-on-the-wall time for Osorio?
Thankfully for the Colombian coach's future, Mexico reacted with some style, aided by Osorio's decision to put Jesus Duenas on in place of Torres Nilo. El Tri got its breakthrough seven minutes after half-time, with an Andres Guardado free kick swung in from the left and tapped in by Hector Moreno.
The screws turned quickly. Angel Sepulveda latched onto a long ball to steer in the second, and within 13 minutes of the second half getting underway, the game was under control.
Raul Jimenez added the third in the 73rd minute from the penalty spot to wrap up a vital win for a Mexico side already qualified for the Hexagonal phase of CONCACAF qualifying.
In an interview with a TV network on the eve of the game, Ochoa stated that "it is clear that some of the players don't like [Osorio's rotation policy]." Was it an unfortunate slip from Ochoa? Or did he intentionally attempt to destabilize Osorio just hours after Porto midfielder Hector Herrera had stressed the strong union between coaching staff and players in the wake of the 7-0?
Whichever it was, it didn't look good. Osorio will be relieved at the result on the night, but he has a lot to think about moving forward. Ochoa surely wasn't lying about his feelings, and the fact that he used the plural "some" indicates he isn't alone.
If players aren't happy, it isn't an issue that is likely to go away anytime soon.
3. Hector Herrera the example
In the news conference ahead of the match, Herrera didn't wear his usual ear-to-ear smile. He looked ready for business. And when the game kicked off, he was all over the place taking responsibility on the field. If there was one player who looked like he wanted to be there, who relished the challenge of a difficult pitch in a tough atmosphere, it was Herrera.
It's no surprise. Herrera has been captaining Porto this season and in many ways he is what Osorio wants from a player. He takes responsibility, is a key cog in his European club side, is tactically intelligent and technically gifted.
In essence, Herrera is a player that Osorio can start to build his team around.
As for the other players, Rafael Marquez and Guardado -- playing in a slightly deeper role than usually -- managed to wrestle control in the second half, while Sepulveda responded well after a poor first half. There will be question marks, however, over Torres Nilo's future at left-back.
This was Mexico's 31st win over El Salvador in 39 meetings. A victory was expected, but La Selecta made sure El Tri suffered for it.
Honduras at the Estadio Azteca is up next for Mexico on Tuesday, and then comes the really serious business of Hexagonal qualifying, which is looking likely to start with a trip to Columbus, Ohio, to face the United States.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.