Mexico Camp Focus – Gio stays as Aztecas sign off with win

Giovani dos Santos has been ordered to stay with the camp as World Cup preparations with a 2-1 success over world champions Italy. The demand comes from his brother Jonathan, who was controversially axed from the squad when Javier Aguirre announced his final 23 earlier this week. The Barcelona midfielder said: “I convinced Giovani to stay and not leave the national team with me. He was very hurt because we thought about playing at the World Cup together and it was a hard blow. I talked to him and told him he had to stay so he wouldn’t let everything he’d worked for go to waste.”

Goals from Carlos Vela and Alberto Medina gave the Aztecas a second successive victory as they head for South Africa. Dos Santos starred in the game with his brother’s message still ringing in his ears. The Galatasaray playmaker started lively on the left flank, accompanied by Carlos Salcido, whose constant overlapping presented dos Santos with space to roam inside, and dos Santos was instrumental in the game’s opening goal. Having roamed in-field in search of possession, dos Santos was fed the ball on the right hand side. His lifted cross crept over the head of Leonardo Bonucci, who desperately stretched to head clear. With the ball evading the Italian defender it left Vela unmarked in the area to sweep El Tri into an early lead. The goal was a sign of the Aztecas’ advantage in the first half despite Vincenzo Iaquinta rattling the crossbar in the third minute. Mexico’s second on 83 minutes came after Cuauhtemoc Blanco’s chipped through-ball found Medina, who then blasted past Gianluigi Buffon.

Aguirre named a side that could possibly take the field against South Africa in their opening game, with the one exception coming in goal. Oscar Perez was given his first start since the defeat to England at Wembley but Aguirre is likely to opt for Guillermo Ochoa against the host nation. The 37-year old had little do after the initial scare of seeing his crossbar struck, as Rafael Marquez and Francisco Rodriguez contained the Italian attack of Iaquinta and Alberto Gilardino. But the second-half introduction of Simone Pepe highlighted Perez’s inability to deal with crosses. The Udinese winger twice left Perez grasping thin air as he sought to provide the Azzurri with a chance to equalise.

The omission of Jonathan dos Santos has left Mexico lacking natural midfield players so Aguirre continued to experiment with different midfield equations. In recent games, Gerardo Torrado, Marquez, and Andres Guardado have all been utilised in central midfield. This time it was Efrain Juarez’s turn to partner Torrado, and when Juarez slotted into right-back following Marquez’s withdrawal at half-time, Pablo Barrera played in the middle after the interval. Aguirre’s decision to sacrifice dos Santos for players who are comfortable in a number of positions may be to his detriment, especially given the outrage from within the squad when the announcement was made. But Aguirre can put forward the case that the players he’s selected ahead of dos Santos have all found form at precisely the right time. Medina, who replaced Giovani dos Santos just before the hour mark, took his goal well and picked up where dos Santos left off, cutting inside to attack and supplying the foraging ventures of Salcido from left-back. Both Juarez and Paul Aguilar pressed and forced the Italians into surrendering possession, before presenting dos Santos with the opportunity to attack once more. Despite both being contenders for the right-back berth, they began the game in midfield, in the centre and on the right respectively before dropping back into defence in the closing stages.

The win over a strong Italian outfit indicates the lengthy warm-up schedule is set to pay dividends, as the Aztecas looked sharper than Italy, who had not played since a 0-0 draw with Cameroon in March. The eight-game preparation for the World Cup has resulted in five victories, a goalless draw and two defeats against nations expected to do well in the competition (the Netherlands and England). Those defeats failed to reflect the Mexican performance, where despite facing more illustrious opposition the Aztecas were able to retain possession and carve out numerous goal-scoring chances. Bonucci’s consolation for the Azzurri is unlikely to dampen spirits amongst the camp following the impressive win, but the ghost of the younger dos Santos may yet haunt his Coach if Mexico fail to get off to a good start in Johannesburg.

Italy 1- 2 Mexico – Bonucci 88 – Vela 17, Medina 83

Mexico: Perez, Osorio, Salcido, Marquez (Barrera 46), Rodriguez (Moreno 69), Aguilar, Juarez, Torrado, Dos Santos (Medina 52), Vela (Castro 82), Hernandez (Blanco 70)

World Cup warm-up results

May 7 – Ecuador 0-0 Mexico
May 10 – Mexico 1-0 Senegal
May 13 – Mexico 1-0 Angola
May 16 – Mexico 1-0 Chile
May 24 – England 3-1 Mexico
May 26 – Netherlands 2-1 Mexico
May 30 – Gambia 1-5 Mexico
June 3 – Mexico 2-1 Italy

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