Rafa Marquez heroics lead Mexico over Uruguay at Copa America
Longtime Mexico captain Rafa Marquez was the hero in Mexico's Copa America opener, scoring the game-winning goal in a wild 3-1 triumph over Uruguay at a raucous University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Uruguay had the trifecta of misfortune between the pregame festivities and halftime. Tournament organizers unfathomably played the Chilean national anthem for Uruguay, citing "human error" in a forced statement. Within four minutes, Alvaro Pereira had headed home Andres Guardado's cross into his own net, and right before halftime Matias Vecino picked up his second yellow card for a reckless challenge on Jesus "Tecatito" Corona.
Uruguay played better in the second half even with the man disadvantage, and it found an equalizer in the 74th minute through the clutch Diego Godin, who scored off a free kick moments after Guardado was sent off. The 37-year Marquez made the difference, though, rifling home a close range effort into the upper right-hand corner after a set piece fell his way in the 85th minute.
Hector Herrera finished off the win with a header at the goal mouth, as Hirving Lozano's cross to Raul Jimenez was then flicked Herrera's way, and he nudged home the simple touch to seal the three-point haul.
Here are three thoughts on the match:
Finally, a game that entertains
Copa America Centenario hasn't exactly gotten off to the most electric of starts. The USA's match vs. Colombia in the opener on Friday was essentially over at halftime. Saturday's triple-header yielded one (ONE!) goal between them, with a heartbreaking Haiti miss and controversially disallowed goal for Ecuador the closest things to resemble genuine excitement and talking points. Before this game, there hadn't been one in which both teams scored. Given that Neymar appears more interested in sitting with Jamie Foxx, bagging selfies with Justin Bieber and attending the NBA finals, perhaps it's no surprise that the play on the field hasn't exactly reflected the best this hemisphere has to offer.
Well, that finally changed some in Arizona, where Mexico and Uruguay put on a worthy show in front of a capacity, pro-Mexico crowd. Even without Luis Suarez active (he did bark out orders as a de facto coach from the sideline), and despite being down a man, Uruguay dug in and showed its guile, changing its tactics and seizing a stronger hold on the game over the second half. When Guardado was sent off, Uruguay pounced.
Mexico came right back and found its winning strikes, while Uruguay's players made a beeline for the officiating crew after the match, believing offside should have been called prior to Marquez's winning strike.
It's a top-heavy tournament field, so if Mexico-Uruguay is any indication, the heavyweight bouts will be this competition's saving grace.
Rafa Marquez won't go away
If it seems like Marquez has been playing for Mexico for 20 years, it's because he has. His first cap came in 1997, he's captained Mexico in four World Cups, and manager after manager continues turning to him.
He's a villain in U.S. and MLS circles, revered in Mexico (even after the penalty he conceded to Arjen Robben in the 2014 World Cup) and he's a hero again after his laser of a shot that left Fernando Muslera no chance and secured the three points.
It hasn't always been pretty, and his time in MLS was an absolute travesty, but as long as he's playing, Rafa is Mexico's heartbeat, for better or worse.
A key three for El Tri
These three points were the most important for Mexico in the group stage. Given it'll be highly favored against its next two opponents, Jamaica and Venezuela, beating Uruguay effectively sealed first place in Group C, provided that the expected unfolds (yes, "that's why they play the games," but this also happens to appear to be as predictable of a tournament field as there is in a group stage). Now, of course, Argentina must do its part and win Group D, but should Messi & Co. take care of business, Mexico will avoid the world's top-ranked team in a potential quarterfinal. There's a long road before then, but given Mexico's form, talent and pathway, it all seems pretty clear.
Mexico's unbeaten run is up to 20, and Mexico improves to 8-0-0 under Juan Carlos Osorio, though its shutout streak is over. For as much strife as Mexico had leading into the 2014 World Cup and at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup (save for the final, where it was excellent), El Tri appears to have things figured out, certainly more than any other CONCACAF side, and its mental strength to remain in the game after Godin's equalizer wasn't necessarily a hallmark of past sides.
Attacking players' movement both on and off the ball kept Uruguay's defenders stretched and on edge all night. Javier Aquino and Tecatito got forward at will and dazzled in 1-v-1 situations over the first 45 minutes. Miguel Layun's set-up to Chicharito with a curled early cross from the right in the first half was sublime, with the star forward only unable to put a shot on frame because of a heroic tackle by Atletico Madrid's Jose Gimenez. Another Gimenez tackle prevented another would-be Chicharito goal in the second half.
Simply put, Mexico is positioned for a deep run with its toughest group game out of the way and confidence rising even higher.