Mexico 2-0 France: Organised v disorganised

June 18, 2010

Tactics can only explain a team’s victories or defeats to a certain extent – this awful French performance was quite clearly a failing in terms of motivation, team spirit and countless other factors that aren’t directly concerned with strategy.

Nevertheless, tonight did demonstrate something important – a well-drilled teams of decent individuals will generally triumph over a disorganised bunch of top-class players. France were woeful, but Mexico were excellent.

France made one change from their first match, with Florent Malouda replacing Yoann Gourcuff, whilst Mexico also made a single switch from the draw with South Africa – Paul Aguilar dropped to the bench, and in came Hector Moreno.

Neither of these were straight swaps, however. France shifted to a 4-2-3-1 system, with Jeremy Toulalan and Abou Diaby sitting in front of the defence, the Arsenal man slightly ahead. Frank Ribery played in a central role, whilst Malouda started from the left.

Mexico’s system saw Ricardo Osorio shifting out to right-back / right-wing back, and Moreno playing in his central position. This immediately worked well for Mexico, because they had a defensive-minded player on the right, against the double threat of Malouda and Patrice Evra – and Ribery, when he drifted left.

Mexico nullify France through sheer numbers

Javier Aguirre deploys his three forwards in a very interesting manner. They all broadly stay high up the pitch against the opposition defence, but the central striker, Guillermo Franco, is often the one who drops deepest. Today, he actually did a very good defensive job on Jeremy Toulalan, France’s deepest midfield player – sometimes moving goalside of him when Mexico were without the ball. This meant that Mexico often had an extra central midfield player (creating a 4 v 3, if you include Ribery), had both the wide players covered with wing-backs, whilst having 2 v 1 in defence.

There wasn’t enough movement from the French players to really worry Mexico; France had slightly more possession (53%), but never in dangerous areas, and they created few goalscoring opportunities because none of their inventive players had time on the ball. Each of France’s six furthest-forward players were generally occupied by a Mexican, with two spare players providing cover – one in defence, one in midfield. The centre-backs often had time on the ball if Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos were wide, but their distribution was poor and lacking in any real purpose.

The first-half warning about balls over the top was not taken

France high line

Maybe it was the fact that they often had no striker to deal with, as Franco was dropping deep – but those two centre-backs played a suicidally high defensive line. This was almost exposed twice in bizarre circumstances in the first half – not because Mexico played balls over the top for onrushing forwards, but because backpasses from Abidal and Gallas were underhit and almost let Mexico in for one-on-ones. The problem in these instances was, of course, the poor touches of the centre-backs in playing the ball back towards Lloris rather than a problem with positioning, but it did emphasise how high the defence was playing up the pitch.

The warning came in the first half when a Rafael Marquez chipped pass put three Mexico players in (see above) – all clear of the French defence who couldn’t get back in time, but Carlos Vela slashed his shot wide.

The crazy situation for Mexico's first goal, where Hernandez had the majority of the French half to himself

It was only when substitutions were made in the second half that Mexico broke through. The goal, when it arrived, was incredibly simple. Javier Hernandez picked the ball up inbetween France’s midfield and defence, with no pressure on him. He laid the ball back to Rafael Marquez, then sprinted in behind the defence – Marquez’s chipped pass was both exquisitely timed and beautifully placed, and Hernandez had 40 yards of space to himself, to round Lloris and score.

That effectively decided the game. Not once did France look like scoring.

Salcido crucial

The most interesting feature of Mexico’s game was the different nature of their full-backs. As previously mentioned, Osario was up against France’s biggest attacking threats and was playing on the same side as the energetic Efrain Juarez, and so generally kept his position. On the other side, however, Carlos Salcido was barely threatened by the ineffectual Sidney Govou, and had space ahead of him. Even if he got forward, he didn’t leave Mexico with a shortfall in defence – and therefore took every chance to cause France trouble. He got into the box for a shot at Lloris when Gallas hesitated in the first half, and soon after swung an excellent ball into the box which Lloris headed against substitute Pablo Barrera.

This is the best thing about Aguirre’s fluid system – they have two centre-backs that remain in position, but the three players ahead of them can all either play as defenders or midfielders, and therefore their roles can be varied to suit the circumstances. With France playing only one striker, Marquez played in midfield, but could have moved back to defence to maintain the spare man had France gone 4-4-2. Similar things can be observed of the full-backs. Usually these three players shift to either form a 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3, but tonight it was a combination of the two in order to get the best out of Salcido, who produced the best full-back/wing-back performance of the tournament so far. We’re increasingly seeing lopsided systems in attack, but here Mexico showed that a lopsided defensive shape can work well too.


List France’s biggest five problems at the moment, and none will involve tactics; Raymond Domenech has no authority within the French squad, so his instructions are almost irrelevant. On the pitch, the team has no cohesion, no organisation, doesn’t look like scoring and always looks like conceding. The change in formation did nothing to solve these problems and the substitutes brought little to the side, and yet Domenech was seemingly happy to pass up his chance to make a third change.

Mexico were the complete opposite, and offer a great deal from both an entertainment and tactical point of view. In some respects they are similar to Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile side – always three up top, but with the ability to shift between a three- and four-man defence according to the formation of the opponents. They lack defensive solidarity at times and won’t score enough goals to be in with a serious chance of winning the competition, but they are a very interesting, likeable side.

France aren’t definitely out, and Mexico aren’t definitely through – but only one side deserves a place in the knockout stages.

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