Rafael Márquez scores v. South Africa (Getty Images)
On the opening day of the 2010 World Cup, it became clear that South Africa was inspired, Mexico was hungover, France is not as good as it should be, and Uruguay may be the monkeywrench.
Mexico should have beaten South Africa but they looked uninspired (which is the nicest way I can put it). I don’t know if Javier Aguirre was taking lessons from Diego Maradona about how to unsettle one’s team, but it certainly appeared that way. He made a series of questionable decisions, beginning with Guillermo Franco up front and ending with Oscar Pérez in goal. Really? Oscar Pérez when you have Guillermo Ochoa, who is, in fact, the best keeper Mexico has right now. Of that, there is no doubt. I think Aguirre over-analyzed and figured if he shook things up, everyone would respond. But they didn’t. Athletes in general, and players on the Mexican national soccer team in particular, love stability. In Mexico, the starting XI should be reasonably obvious and, with a few key subs, can play the entire tournament. There is a reason that Mexico does well in CONCACAF, but not in international tournaments. It’s not entirely dependent on the endemic instability (it also has to do with a chronic attitude problem, in which they think they’re automatically better than everyone else, but that’s another post entirely). It’s time to let the young bucks play. In Ochoa’s case, he’s been the number 1 keeper for 3 and a half years; to not play him now is inexcusable. Put quicker players up front and use the pace provided by Carlos Vela and Giovanni dos Santos (who continues to impress) to create havoc for the opposition’s back four.
I will say that the decision to play quickly, and at a high pace, suits the current Mexico squad (except for Franco, who can’t outrun me). Use Gerardo Torrado as the midfield decision-maker/hard man and let him spring Vela, dos Santos, and anyone else who can streak forward. It’s important that Mexico force the pace in their second and third games because both Uruguay and France want to play slow (as demonstrated by their extraordinarily boring draw). For that, Aguirre needs to make only 1 or 2 changes. And I think he will.
Aguirre is lucky his poor decisions didn’t cost Mexico. Fortunately, France and Uruguay drew, meaning that the group standings look the same today as they did yesterday: everyone is equal, though with only two games left. Mexico needs at least one victory and preferably two. Or else they’ll be heading home early with nothing but pointless tinkering to blame.
PS. Ditch the stupid black jerseys. They look awful.