MONTERREY, Mexico — The Mexican national team had to rally twice on Thursday night to ultimately beat CONCACAF rivals Costa Rica in a entertaining friendly at Estadio Universitario. Here are three thoughts from Mexico’s win over Costa Rica.
1. Super-subs rescue win for Mexico
This was a flawed, but ultimately satisfactory night for Mexico. The 3-2 victory over Costa Rica ended a streak of four consecutive losses and after being down 2-1 at half-time, El Tri should be happy with what was a positive second-half display.
The difference between the first 45 minutes and the second for Mexico? Coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti’s substitutions.
Ferretti stated on the eve of the game that he was still considering whether to start any of the seven Europe-based players and he ultimately decided not to. The resulting starting XI was all Mexico-based and had an average age of 23 years, with nine of the eleven aged 25 or under. On the other side, Keylor Navas-led Costa Rica wasn’t far from being full-strength, with new head coach Gustavo Matosas looking on from the stands in Estadio Universitario.
Ferretti’s substitutions, however, changed the game. Striker Henry Martin and winger Jurgen Damm were brought on at half-time and combined to level the score at 2-2 in the 56th minute, with Damm providing the cross for Martin to head in.
After an hour, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona and Raul Jimenez entered the field as Mexico chased the game.
It worked. Martin drew a foul in the penalty area from David Guzman in the 70th and Jimenez stepped up to net what turned out to be the winning goal in front of 35,827 — six thousand below the capacity of the stadium.
It turned out to be an exciting game, one which gave us some insight into where these young national team players are at.
The answer was seen in the second half as Mexico wrestled the game from Costa Rica directly because more experience came onto the field. This crop of young Mexico players is still green, but they’ll gain vital experience from nights like this.
2. Mexico’s young defense suffers against Costa Rica’s experience
When Gibran Lajud almost allowed a loose ball to slip under his foot and into the goal in pretty much his first touch in international soccer, the tone was kind of set for a nervous defensive performance by the home side.
It was perhaps expected given that the starting back five, including Lajud, had an average age of under 22 years old. With Costa Rica’s assistant Ronald Gonzalez fielding an attack including Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz and Johan Venegas, this was always going to be a difficult night.
But as Ferretti said in the build-up, this is the kind of experience that these young players need. Costa Rica’s first-half goals came from defensive errors from Mexico that will certainly need to be learned from. Bryan Oviedo’s cross to Campbell at the far post should’ve been better dealt with by Gerardo Arteaga and Jesus Angulo, but there was confusion amongst the Santos Laguna teammates over which should’ve been putting pressure on the Frosinone forward.
Angulo’s positioning was strange overall, with the 20-year-old played by Ferretti in a left center-back role, despite the fact he plays as left-back for his club side. Then there was Josecarlos Van Rankin, who assisted a goal, but who gave away a penalty in the 42nd, handling an Oviedo cross. It wasn’t a deliberate handball, but at international level you can’t be charging down the ball with arms flailing like a goalkeeper coming out to make a save.
Things improved after the break, with Duenas moved to right-back to replaced Van Rankin and Raul Gudino coming on for the nervous-looking Lajud.
3. Tepid response from Monterrey crowd
There are regular calls for Mexico to play more games in outside of Mexico City, where the fans rarely get to see the national team. And most of those debates at some point mention how good Monterrey fans are at supporting local Liga MX teams Tigres and Rayados.
This was the first time the Mexican national team had played a friendly inside Mexico but outside the capital in almost three years. And the result was mixed. Tickets were sold at $23 USD and up at the ticket office — expensive for a game in Mexico — but outside the stadium scalpers were offering them for below that price. That’s never a good sign.
The atmosphere outside the stadium beforehand was flat, but that may have been expected given the squad is both shorn of a full-time manager and without Europe-based stars like Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado and Guillermo Ochoa. On top of that, the memory of Mexico going out of the World Cup at the round-of-16 stage once again is still fresh. There was no training session in Monterrey ahead of the game, with the team staying in their Mexico City base until Wednesday afternoon. It was also very much a Tigres crowd, with the club promoting the game in the club’s home stadium and Rayados staying out of the promotion.
But when the game got underway, the crowd started to warm up. The “wave,” which legend states originated in this stadium, started to do laps, and “Cielito Lindo” rang out and the majority of the seats were occupied.
All in all, the FMF would’ve seen little to convince them that playing more friendlies in Mexico is better than in the comfort of the United States.