Mexico 2-0 Honduras: extra time win for Mexico
Two extra time goals from set-pieces set up another US v Mexico Gold Cup final.
Jose Manuel de la Torre kept faith with the side that just about overcame Guatemala in the quarter-final, despite the continued impressive substitute appearances of Aldo de Nigris, in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Luis Fernando Suarez went with a 4-1-4-1, making one change – Alfredo Mejia came in for Walter Martinez in midfield.
This was a game with relatively few interesting tactical features. The sides basically ‘matched’ each other in midfield, although Giovanni dos Santos played more as a second striker than as a trequartista, and neither manager looked to significantly change their sides shape as the game went on.
However, the game was very different from the other semi final, because both sides played at a high tempo and looked to press the opposition. Mexico were more comfortable in possession and saw more of the ball, but Honduras were disciplined defensively, each player had a specific man to pick up, and Mexico weren’t as dominant as they may have expected.
The shape may have changed significantly from the fascinating 3-4-3 / 4-3-3 shape they exhibited at the World Cup last summer, but Mexico retain that flexibility between the defensive and midfield bands. Both their central midfielders (more often Gerardo Torrado) dropped into the defence at times to provide another passing option out of the back, and this flexibility – as well as more technical quality – meant that Mexico’s ball retention was better.
Further forward, Andres Guardado played narrow on the left and looked to move into central playmaking positions, whilst Pablo Barrera on the other side played more as a classic winger. This caused some problems with narrowness down the left, because Carlos Salcido prefer to use his right foot, so Mexico didn’t have anyone stretching the play down that flank.
Mexico were generally more dangerous when they played on the break with their front four players using their speed – when Honduras got nine men behind the ball, Mexico looked less threatening. Honduras also defended very deep, to prevent Javier Hernandez’s pace being a threat.
Honduras used a classic underdog strategy. The powerful lone striker Jerry Bengtson looked to compete in the air and hold up the ball, and he was usually supported by three of the four behind, who all contributed something slightly different. Javier Portillo provided pace and trickery down the left, Roger Espinoza had technical quality on the ball and some clever left-footed passes, whilst Mejia often looked to overlap Oscar Garcia and create 2 v 1 situation against Salcido, and those two formed a promising triangle with the right-back, Mauricio Sabillon.
Ultimately, however, the game lacked a creative spark and 0-0 at half time was the inevitable scoreline.
The game became more scrappy after half time, with yellow cards being dished out and physios frequently on the pitch, breaking up the rhythm of the game. Substitutions also contributed to this effect, with lots of changes without the formation of either side changing, and we were still without any ‘free’ players in the midfield zone.
Mexico’s changes were slightly more dramatic. Guardado made way for de Nigris – he played off Hernandez, with dos Santos moving to the left. This didn’t help Mexico in open play – they missed dos Santos providing the link between midfield and attack. Meanwhile, Honduras’ removal of Bengtson meant they were robbed of the focal point for their attacks.
The main efforts late in the game came from long-range shots.
There were two key factors in extra time. First, Mexico were fitter than their opponents and had the legs to continue playing good football late on in the game. Second, Honduras’ marking from corners was terrible, allowing first de Nigris and then Hernandez to go free in dangerous positions, and both strikers found the target. The late sending-off of Espinoza after a string of fouls sealed Honduras’ fate.
Honduras may have lost the game, but Suarez’s tactics here were correct – they took Honduras from a position as underdogs to a position where they were competing very well with, on paper, a far superior side. He ordered his side press, which caused Mexico some problems and meant they struggled to create – and a 0-0 at full-time was, on balance, probably the ‘right’ scoreline.
Two classic problems with pressing – fitness levels and discipline – let Honduras down in extra time, but better marking from set-pieces would have spared them.