Carlos Vela emphatically returned to the Mexican national team with two goals in a 3-2 win over the Netherlands on Wednesday. Javier “Chicharito” Hernández added one as well, and Mexico ran over the Dutch for much of the game in their own stadium.
It took Mexico just eight minutes to get on the scoreboard, with Vela putting away a shot from distance. Wesley Sneijder equalized via an equally impressive strike just after halftime, but the 1-1 score didn’t do Mexico’s performance justice, and Vela scored again before Hernández struck to make it 3-1.
Daley Blind scored the final goal of the game in the 74th minute, on another long shot that benefited from a deflection before Guillermo Ochoa failed to palm it away from goal. Each team’s performance deserved the result it received, as Mexico’s collective mentality triumphed over a Netherlands team that is struggling to find its feet under a new manager.
Here are three thoughts on Vela’s return to El Tri and the match in general:
• Vela did exactly what he needed to endear himself again to Mexico's fans
Vela dropped in and out of the top line with Chicharito, sometimes as the high man and sometimes as the shadow striker. Any lingering doubts about his mentality dissipated as he smacked a left-footed shot past Tim Krul from about 23 yards early on. Beyond his contributions to the attack, which included bouncing off multiple tackles and generally holding the ball well, his high work rate when out of possession set the tone for Mexico defensively.
In his first match for El Tri since 2011, Vela showed his calmness on the ball as well, fending off multiple defenders at a time and setting up Chicharito with a ball inside the six-yard box early in the second half that Krul extended desperately to stop. Minutes after that effort, Vela peeled off to the far post and expertly took down a diagonal ball from Jesús Manuel “Tecatito” Corona — who looked excellent in his international debut — behind the back line, striking another past Krul for his brace.
• The Dutch improved as the match went on, but they clearly had an eye on the upcoming Euro qualifier vs. Latvia
The Dutch haven’t started well in qualifying, with away losses to the Czech Republic and Iceland bookending a home win over Kazakhstan. Much of the identity developed under Louis van Gaal has disappeared, and the Oranje doesn’t seem to have as many ideas in attack with Guus Hiddink. Both goals were individual moments of brilliance, long-distance strikes that had little to do with the team as a whole. The new staff must already be under extreme pressure to deliver results, and Wednesday won’t help.
For the Mexican fans, notions of revenge were obvious after the way their team lost in the World Cup round of 16 just four months ago. Posters counting the days (136) since that match ringed the stadium, as did the usual chants on goal kicks and the olés as Mexico kept possession. But on a practical level, this match wasn’t about redemption, as Mexico manager Miguel Herrera said in his pre-game comments. In any case, the game and result clearly meant more to the Mexican fans who were more vocal than and seemingly outnumbered the Dutch in their own Amsterdam ArenA.
• Herrera’s rejuvenation of the Mexican senior team continues
The players have clearly bought in, with their high work rate on the defensive side starting from the forwards. El Tri put the Netherlands on the back foot at home, preventing easy play out of the back and relentlessly pressing every movement from the Oranje defenders. As his players worked their socks off, Herrera stood on the sideline, gesturing and yelling instruction in his trademark wild style.
The one slight twist to Herrera’s formula on Wednesday was in the formation. Mexico started in its usual 5-3-2, but after asserting its dominance in the first half, Diego Reyes stepped out from central defense to become a midfielder, pushing José Juan Vazquez to the point of midfield in a 4-4-2 diamond. Unlike under Herrera’s multiple predecessors in a short time span, Mexico clearly has a structure in mind as it plays, but it’s one that allows the players’ creativity and improvisation ability to shine as well.
El Tri is starting to look like the Mexico of old, reborn under its passionate new manager.