Argentina 3-1 Mexico: technical quality shines through in an open game
A game that looked to be tense and tight, before two odd first half goals swing the game Argentina’s way. In the end, they deserved the victory.
Mexico made a few changes to the side which lost 1-0 to Uruguay, bringing back Efrain Juarez at right-back, and completely revamping the forward line, going for a combination of Javier Henandez and Adolfo Bautista. Argentina played their expected XI, with Nicolas Otamendi in ahead of Jonas Gutierrez at right-back.
Mexico changed their shape – tonight they seemed to play a cross between their regular 3-4-3 / 4-3-3, and a more orthodox 4-4-1-1 shape. Certainly, in the defensive phase of play they defended with two solid banks of four – but there was more fluidity when they had the ball, with the full-backs motoring forward and Rafael Marquez dropping into a deeper role.
The change in shape didn’t really work. In particular, it was disappointing to see dos Santos playing so deep. At times he was taking up positions you would expect of a right midfielder in a 4-4-2 – miles away from the Argentina defence. His pace and direct running could have been the biggest threat to Argentina’s backline, but despite showing good touches on the ball, he wasn’t able to influence the game in the final third of the pitch.
They also missed Efrain Juarez playing his energetic midfield role. Today he provided an outlet at right-back, but the central midfield duo of Marquez and Gerardo Torrado was too static, and didn’t put Javier Mascherano under enough pressure. Mexico lacked a real link player, a central threat playing between the central midfielders and the forwards. That is a fairly damning verdict on the performance of Bautista, who was completely anonymous and was removed at half-time.
The one benefit of the shape was that it kept Lionel Messi reasonably quiet, without the need for a specific man-marking job on him, as Greece tried in their final group match. Although he showed glimpses of imagination and created the first goal for Carlos Tevez, he failed to dominate the game to the extent that may have been expected up against the ageing Marquez-Torrado pairing.
Maxi Rodriguez and Angel di Maria both had decent games and got through a lot of running, generally starting central and moving wide when Argentina had the ball, but Maradona’s side’s main threat was coming through the centre. The width of those two players allowed Messi, Tevez and Higuain central roles, with license to drift around as they liked. In particular, this seemed to suit Tevez, and Mexico had real problems picking him up. His goal was clearly offside, but he had been a threat until the goal with darting runs in between the lines. Marquez was primarily concerned with Messi, and so Tevez had space to work in.
The main Mexican threat was coming from long shots, particularly from Carlos Salcido, who again provided a great attacking threat from the left-hand side. But Mexico were unable to retain the ball when it was played up towards the front players, and they missed their usual system of three forwards, which stretches the defence and would have dragged Argentina’s defenders around more.
Javier Aguirre moved back towards his 4-3-3 for the second half by bringing on Barrera in a left-sided role, but the game was effectively over when Tevez smashed in the third from the edge of the penalty area. To his credit, Aguirre really went for it at 3-0 down, introducing Gulliermo Franco for Guardado, and playing a system with four genuine forwards. Argentina’s outside midfielders were forced to retreat and help double up with their full-backs, but there was still no threat from the centre of midfield. Mexico swung plenty of crosses into the box, but lack a true goalscorer, and all too often decent balls in were not taken advantage of because of poor (or too similar) runs from the forwards.
Hernandez got a goal back with a tremendous rising strike past Sergio Romero, but Argentina were fairly comfortable, and able to bring off Tevez, Rodriguez and di Maria, the three who probably got through the most running during the game. Argentina moved to a more traditional 4-4-1-1 – Juan Veron played the final twenty minutes and helped keep possession and spread the play, whilst Jonas played the final ten, and stopped the dangerous-looking Barrera (now on the right), allowing Heinze to play a more central role, where he made a couple of crucial clearing headers. Maradona and Carlos Bilardo continue to impress with their tactical decisions within games.
Mexico turned out as we expected – they kept possession well and played very attractive, fluid football, but were lacking at both ends of the pitch. Osorio’s error for Higuain’s goal was unforgivable, and they failed to test Argentina’s defence with pace or direct running until the final half hour. They have been fascinating from a tactical viewpoint, but ultimately lacked quality against both Uruguay and Argentina.
Argentina’s shape looked more structured than in previous games, with the two wide players performing their jobs particularly well in a defensive sense. Messi didn’t have his best game, and probably feels slightly hampered by having Tevez directly ahead of him – playing just off Higuain seems to be his preferred role.
Defensively, Argentina still haven’t really been examined properly. They dealt well with the late pressure from Mexico, particularly with crosses played into the box, but then you’d expect that with the solid, rugged defenders in their backline. They’ll struggle more against pace, movement and fluidity – surprisingly lacking from Mexico today – so the Germany game should be fascinating.Argentina 3-1 Mexico: technical quality shines through in an open game