MEXICO (Group A)
1-1 vs. South Africa
2-0 vs. France
0-1 vs. Uruguay
1-3 vs. Argentina
Final Results: Played 4, won 1, drawn 1, lost 2, 4 goals scored, 5 goals allowed. Second place in Group A, eliminated in Round of 16.
Mexico arrived at the World Cup under heady expectation at home. The talk in the Mexican media was all about the "fifth game" -- reaching the quarterfinal round for the first time since 1986. If one were to rate the Mexican team's performance during the World Cup, the term I would use would be "mildly successful". They advanced to the Round of 16 for the fifth consecutive time (recall that they were banned from the 1990 FIFA World Cup), but fell at the first knockout round to Argentina.
Mexico had a tricky task in their first match, which was the opening match of the 2010 World Cup against the host nation South Africa. If Mexico had played South Africa at any other point in the group phase they might have won, but it would always be difficult to play a motivated host nation. Their defense didn't help matters as their full-backs proved susceptible to long-balls from deep in the South African half. Tshabalala capitalized off one defensive breakdown, and Mphela should have scored the winner in the dying moments of the game. Mexico got their equalizer off a breakdown by the South Africans, as a diagonal ball floated over the top found Ráfa Márquez (and two other Mexican players) onside, and Márquez finished clinically.
Mexico's match against France was their best of the tournament, but the French made it too easy for the Mexicans. Mexico had the advantage for most of the first half, but it was only after Javier Aguirre brought on Javier Hernández and Cuauhtémoc Blanco that El Tri took the lead. Márquez was once again at the center of the Mexican forays, and his precise ball to Hernández -- who had also made an excellent run -- resulted in the first goal. Blanco would score the second (and almost certainly his final goal for Mexico) from the penalty spot. Márquez and Osorio pinched off the threat from Ribèry and Malouda, and Salcido had so little to do on the left that he started to involve himself in the offensive play.
The third group match against Uruguay was subdued, as both teams wanted to win in order to avoid Argentina, but neither side wanted to take too much of a risk. Any desire to chase the game ebbed as the result of the South Africa-France match filtered to the field. I did find it curious that Blanco started the game; as Zonal Marking stated in his review of the match, Blanco does have an iconic status on the Mexican national team, but he is also their slowest and least mobile member. And Aguirre still has confidence in him! Javier Hernández came on in his place in the 63rd minute, but by then it was almost too late. The 1-0 score benefited everyone; Uruguay were happy to win the group and avoid Argentina, and Mexico were happy to advance out of the group stage once more.
So it was on to the Round of 16 match against Argentina, and those expecting a repeat of the thrilling 2006 match were disappointed. Mexico actually played very well in the opening 20 minutes, but yet another shocking piece of refereeing changed the game. Or rather, I should say that it put off the inevitable by 10 or 15 minutes. Argentina were starting to stamp their authority on the match via Hugaín and Tévez. Aguirre got it right by playing Hernández from the start, but Dos Santos was so far back that he couldn't do much of anything. Mexico's offensive options were limited to set-pieces and long-distance efforts, which did not happen very often. The final result wasn't too surprising, and Mexico didn't play all that badly, but it did reveal Mexico's shortcomings that were merely masked during the pre-tournament preparation phase.
I thought that Márquez, Juárez, and Torrado had very good World Cups. (That opinion seems to be backed up the Amaral Group's Footballer Rating, and for once I agree with it.) Despite being defensive players, Aguirre's tactics gave them more freedom to participate in offensive forays. Márquez's passing was superb and resulted in a couple of Mexico's goals. The cost of all this participation in the offense was a defensive fragility, as the Mexican backline proved too static to counter the wide players. Guardado aside, there is no one else in the midfield who can dominate proceedings, and the Mexican strikers just weren't effective enough in front of goal. When Javier Hernández's father says that Manchester United might send his son on loan next season, I'm thinking that there might be something to that. He's not yet ready to break onto the first team, in my opinion. And I'm not sure what FIFA's TSG saw in Gio dos Santos to name him as one of the Best Young Player finalists.
This is the end of an era for the Mexican national team. Javier Aguirre stepped down after the Argentina match, which brings to an end his rescue mission to the Mexican national team. It's easy to forget how dire the situation was for Mexico early last year when Eriksson was fired and Mexican teams had failed to qualify for a string of international competitions. I'm sure that Aguirre will fall on his feet somewhere in Europe again. This has to be Cuauhtémoc Blanco's good-bye from the national team, for real this time. Óscar Pérez is 37, while Márquez, Salcido, Osorio, and Torrado are all over 30. There still isn't a replacement for Pardo in the middle.
The Mexicans showed themselves to be an attractive passing team that is expected to be a participant in the knockout stages for the World Cup. They now need one or two players with finishing ability and replacements for a departing and iconic generation of players.