Mexico suffered a setback in their preparations for next summer’s Gold Cup and Copa America with a 3-2 defeat to Belarus in a freezing Borisov. With coach Miguel Herrera continuing his attempts to build two distinct teams ahead of the duel challenge in 2015, only one player remained from the team that impressively beat the Netherlands 3-2 in Amsterdam last week. Twice El Tri took the lead, both times through Atletico Madrid striker Raul Jiménez, but in a frenetic seven-minute spell at the start of the second half, Belarus produced immediate responses through Sergei Kislyak and Nikolai Signevich. And with Mexico’s defense faltering badly late on, substitute Pavel Nekhajchik struck to inflict a first defeat on Herrera’s men since they exited the World Cup to the Dutch in June.
Given the chances Belarus created throughout, it was no less than Mexico deserved. There was encouragement in the finishing of Jiménez and the way that midfielder Jonathan dos Santos, making his first appearance for his country in more than two years, set up his first. But the control of the game against opponents that have taken just one point from their first four Euro 2016 qualifiers, was sorely missing. And it was a match that only furthered question marks over the strength of Mexico’s defensive options without the likes of Rafa Marquez and Francisco Rodriguez. While there may be enough quality in depth elsewhere in the squad to achieve their objectives in both the Gold Cup and Copa America, that currently looks a long way from being the case among the center-backs.
There was little to warm the small crowd in attendance in an uninspiring first 45 minutes. Belarus certainly had the better of the period, and with more composure up front would have punished the sloppiness of their opponents. Mexico’s only chance of note came shortly before the interval, when Arturo Gonzalez should have done better than firing too close to Belarus goalkeeper Sergey Chernik.
The second half was a different story, at least in terms of the goal-mouth action. The frantic action began just three minutes after the restart. Former Barcelona man Jonathan dos Santos controlled the ball delightfully to hold off a defender on the edge of the area before exquisitely chipping through for Jimenez, flagged onside to the frustration to the static Belarus defenders, to control and slot home. Just over a minute later, Mexico’s defensive issues allowed Belarus an immediate response. Paul Aguilar’s poor outing continued when clumsily bringing down Kislyak in the box. And, after Alfredo Talavera flung himself to turn Igor Stasevich’s penalty onto the post, Kislyak reacted quickest to fire the rebound into the roof of the net.
More goals were soon to follow, with slack defending continuing to be at least as responsible as any brilliance in attack. Mexico’s forward line showed signs of a growing partnership, with Jimenez playing in Giovani dos Santos down the right and then continuing his run into the box to meet the Villarreal man’s low cross unmarked with a simple finish. But the visitors couldn’t keep the ball out at the other end. Signevich was left unattended to head in Anton Putsila’s driven cross, before, after several substitutions, Mexico were left ragged to allow Nekhajchik to finish smartly on the volley with nine minutes remaining.