Mexico Camp Focus – Aztecas add spice to Wembley showpiece

Mexico’s 10-match unbeaten run came to an end in their World Cup warm-up against England, but the performance will provide Coach Javier Aguirre with plenty of encouragement ahead of their tournament opener with South Africa on June 11.

The game was Mexico’s fifth warm-up game and their intense schedule may yet reap rewards. Despite the 3-1 loss, Mexico looked sharp in the early stages, testing Robert Green and then striking his post before scoring seconds before the interval in a promising first-half display. In terms of technical ability Mexico stood toe-to-toe with England, but the gulf in concentration settled the game. England’s opening goal came from a lapse in concentration – Paul Aguilar needlessly allowed the ball to run out for a corner and Ledley King was presented with a free header. The lack of awareness will frustrate Aguirre as his team tested one of the tournament’s early favourites on several occasions.

Mexico will be hoping that Guillermo Franco’s injury isn’t serious. The West Ham forward hobbled off at half-time after taking a knock to his ankle as he bundled the ball over the line to score. Franco brought Mexico back into the game, but at a cost. He was replaced by recent Manchester United arrival Javier Hernandez at the start of the second half and his ankle was heavily iced as he watched the rest the game from the bench.

The visitors failed to be overawed by the opposition or the home of English football, and counter-attacked at every opportunity. Carlos Salcido, who operated at left-back, almost profited from this enterprise when he cut inside to curl a right-footed shot towards goal. The shot beat Green, but not the upright, glazing Green’s left post. Rafa Marquez and Gerardo Torrado in central midfield sat deep, not only to protect the back four but also to allow the full-backs to get forward and support attacks. The pair thwarted England attacks, keeping Wayne Rooney – who played just off Peter Crouch – quiet in the process. Both distributed the ball well throughout as the Aztecas controlled possession for large spells, ending the first-half creating more chances despite being behind.

Another shortcoming that the Mexicans will need to be wary of is Salcido’s defensive capabilities. The PSV Eindhoven man is an excellent attacking outlet but found dealing with the pace of Theo Walcott troublesome. The next winger Salcido duels with on the flank is Arjen Robben, as Mexico face the Netherlands their next friendly. Robben, coming off the back of a double-winning season with Bayern Munich, will look to replicate his club form for his country ensuring that Salcido will have to defend as well as he attacks.

The selection of Giovani dos Santos gave the Aztecas a creative spark in midfield. The former Barcelona man is effective with both feet, this enabling him to cut inside from a left-sided starting berth. Dos Santos was at the heart of Mexico’s encouraging early attacks, linking up with Carlos Vela and Franco before the former fired a shot straight at Green on 27 minutes. Vela was again denied instantly after England had doubled their lead. Following Peter Crouch’s effort, the Arsenal forward was played through by dos Santos, only to be denied by Green’s outstretched arm. Cuauhtemoc Blanco was given just 20 minutes as a substitute to enhance his World Cup chances. Before the game the Veracruz forward said: “I really hope to play another World Cup. I’ll rip out my soul in order to get a place,” after missing out on a place in the 2006 squad. Depending on Franco’s injury, Mexico’s all-time record goal-scorer may get another opportunity in Wednesday’s game with Holland.

Mexico gave Oscar Perez another chance to stake his claim for the No 1 jersey but his decision-making may have handed the initiative back to Guillermo Ochoa. The Chiapas stopper was hesitant to collect crosses and rashly raced off his line in the second-half only for his blushes to be saved by Francisco Rodriguez, who headed Rooney’s chip off the line.

The result could act as a speed bump on Mexico’s road to the World Cup but the number of warm-up games the Aztecas have remaining will provide them with opportunities to overcome this setback. The tempo and urgency showed in the first half particularly suggests that the schedule so far has the squad fully fit. But after Glen Johnson’s goal – England’s third of the game – had deflated the side, it remains to be seen whether three more games will stretch a small provisional squad too far.

England 3-1 Mexico – King 17, Crouch 35, Glen Johnson 47 – Franco 45

Mexico: Perez, Juarez, Salcido, Rodriguez, Osorio, Aguilar (Barrera 52), G. dos Santos (Blanco 72), Torrado (C), Marquez, Vela (Guardado 62), Franco (Hernandez 46)

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