By Jose M. Romero / @RomeroJoseM
For FOX Deportes
Mexico’s disappointing performance in its Olympic men’s soccer opener in Newcastle, England, Thursday wasn’t a complete loss. In fact it was a scoreless draw.
El Tri had to feel lucky just to walk away with a point, given how they were outplayed by South Korea.
Let’s look at the positives. Mexico didn’t lose, and the next two group games against Gabon and Switzerland shouldn’t strike fear in the Mexicans’ hearts.
Mexico had few scoring chances, but played without leader and veteran striker Gio Dos Santos for 66 minutes. Dos Santos, apparently, was deemed not fit enough to play the entire game. He should be ready in full for the next game against Gabon in Coventry.
While Mexico’s offensive players – the strength of the team – faltered without opportunity, for the most part, its defense and goalkeeping saved the point.
Midfielders Hector Herrera and Javier Aquino rated high with their play against the Koreans. They’re contributors at best, so they’ll go into the next match with added confidence. Forward Raul Jimenez, an 85th-minute sub, had a shot hit a post in extra time of the second half, and when Dos Santos came on, the momentum changed quickly to Mexico after being with Korea for the whole match until that point.
Bottom line: Things can, and should, only get better for Mexico, the favorites in Group B and medal contenders.
The negatives from Thursday start with the not-so-fit Dos Santos. He gives Mexico a big advantage as a target forward and opponents have to account for him, freeing up teammates like Marco Fabian, a dynamic player who never got going Thursday, for space.
Dos Santos is also a leader. Without him on the pitch, Mexico’s players looked somewhat unsure of themselves and constantly gave up possession. There seemed to be too many back passes to teammates or keeper Jose de Jesus Corona.
Mexico looked shaky with its passing, a few of those passes going to nobody in particular. Fabian and Oribe Peralta didn’t get enough touches.
Korea had a lot of corner kicks. Fortunately for Mexico, those were defended well.
Overall, the way Mexico played, it didn’t deserve a win although Dos Santos made a good run to a ball from Darvin Chavez in the 88th minute and couldn’t get enough direction on a shot, and Jimenez missed his huge chance. South Korea did everything right except finish its numerous chances.
At least Mexico did not fall victim to the upset the way Spain did. Japan stunned one of the favorites for a gold medal, Spain, 1-0 in a Group D opener, and the Spanish had to play with 10 men after a red card to Inigo Martinez in the first half. Japan should have won by more; a few of the bitter Spaniards walked off the pitch in Glasgow, Scotland without shaking hands with their opponents.
Going back to Mexico, one has to wonder if the fact that Dos Santos and his club team, Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League, have not settled on Gio’s return to the club is heavy on his mind. Dos Santos, effectively, is in transfer window limbo.
It’s clear that Dos Santos, the main man in Mexico’s attack, is critical to El Tri’s fortunes at the Olympics. He must be on the field as much as possible.