Ecuador sent Mexico crashing out of the Copa America and kept their own hopes just about alive of making it into the quarterfinals after a 2-1 win in Rancagua. Ecuador had underwhelmed in losing their opening two games of the competition, but produced a determined performance to overcome Mexico through a goal in each half from Miler Bolaños and Enner Valencia. Mexico, which had impressed in drawing 3-3 with hosts Chile earlier in the week, reverted to the more lackluster offerings of their opening goalless draw with Bolivia to succumb, despite reducing their arears through Raúl Jiménez’s penalty.
The result means Mexico will finish bottom of Group A, while Ecuador climb above the invitees and into third place, behind now confirmed qualifiers Chile and Bolivia. Ecuador will now have to wait and see whether their tally of three points, and a negative two goal difference, proves sufficient, to qualify as one of the best two third-place finishes from the three groups.
While Ecuador went into the match with only faint hopes of going through, for Mexico defeat will be a huge disappointment. Despite prioritizing next month’s Gold Cup and taking a second-string squad to Chile, coach Miguel Herrera repeatedly insisted, as recently as this week, that those players at his disposal were good enough to go all the way to final of South America’s showpiece event. Yet, while they showed plenty of verve against Chile, they disappointed in two of the three games to crash out at the first hurdle for the second successive Copa America.
Throughout the three games, as had been suggested by performances ahead of the competition, it was the defense that was most exposed. Already short on quality options, the squad’s most experienced member by some distance, Rafael Márquez, was ruled out after the first game, while left wing-back Adrián Aldrete was injured in the second. Still, Herrera opted against changing from his favored 5-3-2 formation until halftime on Friday. With five or four at the back, the defense was often all at sea. Herrera’s tournament ended in further disappointment when he was sent from the touchline by the officials for protesting too vigorously. And Mexico’s coach, who could do no wrong until recently, will now be under considerable pressure to deliver El Tri the Gold Cup on United States soil.
The signs were not good for Mexico from the off on Friday. Bolaños really should have put Ecuador a goal to the good inside two minutes, but, with a free shot from 12 yards out, he failed to find a corner and goalkeeper Jesús Corona made a fine save with his legs. Against the run of play, the two-goal hero against Chile, Matías Vuoso, had a chance to put Mexico in front, robbing one Ecuador defender and cutting inside another but with the net waiting side-footing wide of the target.
Two minutes later Mexico were behind. Center-back Hugo Ayala gave the ball away to leave Mexico’s defense crudely exposed as Bolaños found Valencia, and with the benefit of a deflection off Juan Carlos Valenzuela, the ball fell back to Bolaños across goal to finish from a yard out.
Ecuador, much sharper than their opponents all over the pitch, were well worth their lead. And, despite Javier Aquino being brought on for Efraín Velarde at halftime amid a formation switch, Ecuador extended their lead shortly before the hour mark. It came about in similar fashion to the opening goal. This time it was Juan Carlos Medina who coughed up possession in a dangerous area, but the Mexico defense again had no answer as Bolaños found Valencia, who expertly cut inside Ayala and finished low past Corona.
Mexico, which went into the game needing a win to ensure qualification, were given hope when Ayala was wrestled to the ground in the box by Gabriel Achilier and Jiménez coolly converted from the spot. But they posed little threat of getting an equalizer and became the first team to exit a tournament in which they will have gained little other than the continued emergence of Jesús “Tecatito” Corona.