On Sunday, Mexico lost to Portugal 2-1 in the third-place playoff match of the Confederations Cup.
It was the most entertaining match of the tournament, including a fantastic penalty save from Memo Ochoa in the first half and an inspiring performance by Chicharito, whose cross from the left hand side forced Neto to turn it into his own net for Mexico’s goal. But unfortunately, it wasn't enough to sustain the lead and hold off the Portuguese pressure, as El Tri conceded a late goal in the second half and force the match to extra time.
In the 104th minute, Portugal was awarded a second penalty after Miguel Layún's arm connected with the ball in the box, and Adrien Silva took full advantage. Despite the offensive avalanche, Osorio's men failed to score again.
In regards to Juan Carlos Osorio’s tenure, the result will most likely add fuel to the fire, as critics will use this opportunity to dissect the weaknesses of this squad – from vulnerable defending to the inability of controlling a match from start to finish – and some will ultimately call for his resignation.
But this is a dangerous path to take.
It’s human nature to overreact right after a performance, and in Latin America, this might as well be considered an Olympic sport. But it’s important to analyze Osorio’s management with Mexico – and this performance in Russia - as a complete essay, instead of a proverbial post-it note. The loss to Portugal will frustrate Mexican fans, especially since the European champions were playing without Cristiano Ronaldo -who left to be with his new-born twins - but calling for Osorio's head is a slippery slope, and one that will not justify what needs to be fixed.
Mexico’s overall performance in the Confederations Cup was by no means perfect, far from it, but this was never the point, as the Colombian manager wanted to use this opportunity to see how his squad would fare against competition outside of CONCACAF. So instead of blaming Osorio, let's focus on what needs improvement.
Here are some thoughts on Mexico’s run in the Confederations Cup – what was learned, what was gained and what was exposed.
After the loss to Germany in the semifinals, Osorio commented on the fact that Mexico deserved a better outcome. “I think we deserved a better result. Our team kept fighting and moving forward, we really tried to keep our game plan,” he said after the loss on Thursday. “Even if we didn’t manage to score, but they had too many opportunities.”
He did, however, acknowledge the fact that his team was too vulnerable when Germany had the ball. By the end of the fixture, Mexico had 58% possession and 25 shot attempts (Germany had 12) but to add more context from that number, El Tri only managed nine on target compared to Germany’s seven.
Against Portugal on Sunday, Mexico's possession was less than 50% and from 13 attempts, only six were on target.
To resume, this lack of direct penetration - regardless of possession - has actually been a theme for Mexico, even before the tournament.
During last month’s World Cup qualifier against the US, Osorio’s team controlled the match with 74% possession and 10 shots – but again, only one on target. In order to improve offensively, Osorio should reconsider the formation, especially as the game develops. Perhaps a well-planned out striking partnership between Chicharito and a physical striker - who can win the ball in the air - in an old-fashioned 4-4-2 system might do the trick.
There is nothing wrong with creating an exciting team, one that can create highlight after highlight, and when it comes to providing the goods, Osorio is spoiled with an embarrassment of riches – for Russia, El Tri boasted such attacking prowess as Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Carlos Vela, Chicharito, Hector Herrera, Giovani Dos Santos and Raul Jimenez, and that was all without Tecatito Corona, who missed out on the tournament for personal reasons.
But as seen against Portugal and Germany – defensive composure is a huge problem forOsorio’s men, and the biggest piece of evidence is defending right after losing possession.
Germany’s first goal against Mexico was a clinical lesson in counter-attacking as the World Cup holders took advantage of how unorganized Mexico were at the back.
As mentioned in an earlier piece, this was the main reason why Chile won 7-0 last year at Copa America, and the same mistakes keep surfacing. A more composed Mexico when not in possession will help the team’s consistency when facing European competition next year - this needs to be top of Osorio’s priorities between now and next June.
Regardless of the need to improve, Juan Carlos Osorio remains the right man for the job, and this tournament shouldn’t be used as the barometer in which he is assessed. Mexican fans need to be patient, and understand that his project is still under construction.
Joachim Low’s success with Germany is a result of a 13-year-project, having been part of the national side’s coaching department since 2004. And it’s this project that emphasizes why we shouldn’t call Germany’s Confederations Cup a reserve team, but rather a younger "A" team. Germany’s U-21 team, having just won the European Championship, plays with the same mentality and philosophy and this is something that Osorio is trying to create – an identity worthy of consistency that runs throughout Mexican soccer.
>Osorio is an academic; a student of the game, constantly looking for the right formula and after last year’s Copa America, this tournament was his second major test outside CONCACAF. There were mistakes but his ultimate challenge has not come yet, and if there is any hope of Mexican success in the future, it’s imperative to stick with the Colombian’s plans.
We also need to remember that from 29 matches under his management, Mexico has only lost four times with a 69% winning ratio – the highest ever out of any Mexico head coach who has managed 20+ matches.
If Osorio can fix the defensive frailties and capitalize more when going forward, El Tri can have a very good World Cup and finally go beyond the Round of 16.