Mexico gained plenty of plaudits for their performance in earning a thrilling 3-3 draw with hosts Chile on Monday, but victory is now all that matters for Miguel Herrera’s men entering their final Copa America group match. After an insipid opening goalless draw with Bolivia, Mexico produced a vivacious display to twice take the lead against one of the favorites to take the trophy before coming from behind to salvage a well-deserved point. But it still leaves El Tri realistically needing a victory against Ecuador on Friday in order to at least be sure of going onto the quarterfinals as one of the best third-placed teams.
But, already having on a second-string squad at his disposal as his top players focus on preparing for next month’s Gold Cup, Herrera’s options have been further restricted ahead of their deciding group match. The squad’s leader and most experienced player, Rafael Márquez, had been ruled out for the group stage after picking up an injury in the opening game. And now it has been confirmed that left wing-back Adrian Aldrete suffered an ankle sprain against Chile and won’t be available until, at the earliest, the tournament’s latter stages.
It leaves Herrera again having to reshape a defense that has already been stretched incredibly thin by having to compete on two fronts this summer. Since Herrera began planning for the two competitions following last year’s World Cup, it has been finding the required number of adequate defenders that has been the biggest struggle, particularly given the coach’s strong preference to play five at the back.
Against Chile, defensive slips cost Mexico the initiative as Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas equalized for Chile in the first half, before Vidal was allowed to score his second from the penalty spot in the second half.
Otherwise, though, there was much to admire about Mexico’s display in Santiago. The team showed far more intensity in applying pressure to their opponents from the start. And having looked blunt in attack against Bolivia, Raúl Jiménez added a touch of quality up front, alongside the hero of the day, Matías Vuoso. The Argentine-born 33-year-old was a surprise selection in the squad, but scored twice to register his first goals for Mexico in six years.
And both he and Mexico will be confident of adding to their goals tally when going up against Ecuador. A team featuring the Premier League pedigree of Jefferson Montero and Enner Valencia will have fancied their chances of making an impact at the start of the tournament, but already finds itself all-but eliminated after two straight defeats. While a 2-0 loss to Chile was perhaps expected, a loss to Bolivia last time out, and the manner of it, certainly wasn’t. Gustavo Quinteros’ side found themselves 3-0 down before halftime against the country that had failed to win a single Copa America match since hosting the tournament in 1997.
Some calamitous defending was at the root of a disastrous 45 minutes for Ecuador, and, while they reduced their arrears in the second half, a 3-2 defeat still leaves their hopes of a place in the quarterfinals hanging by a thread. Ecuador needs to beat Mexico and then hope to get lucky with other results going their way in order to progress as one of the two best third-placed teams from the three groups.
Prediction: Mexico certainly has no room for complacency, and Ecuador has the attacking talent to cause a weakened Mexico defense problems. There will be particular danger down Mexico’s right flank where Montero and attacking full-back Walter Ayovi could double up against Mexico wing-back Gerardo Flores. But if Mexico can play with the same purpose as they began against Chile then is every reason to think they can get the better of an Ecuador side that may already be resigned to elimination.
Predicted score: Mexico over Ecuador, 2-1