Mexico Wins 2-0, Puts France On The Brink Of Elimination
Mexico fans were proud of their team's performance on Thursday.
Subs Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Cuauhtemac Blanco scored second half goals to give Mexico a 2-0 win over France on Thursday. The win puts Mexico in prime position to advance out of Group A as they now have four points and are tied with Uruguay at the top of the group leaderboard -- Uruguay has a slightly better goal differential (+3 to +2), which means they get the top spot in the event of a tie.
The win was an outstanding breakthrough for Mexico -- they had previously tied South Africa and a loss against France would likely have meant elimination -- and their fans celebrated accordingly, breaking into jubilant celebration in the streets of Mexico City as well as in Polokwane, where the game was held.
In France, the reaction was much more dire.
Some quick thoughts on the game:
- Using Hernandez as a sub to ignite Mexico's second half attack proved to be a winning strategy for coach Javier Aguirre. Hernandez has the talent to start (he will play for Manchester United next season), but using him as a spark off the bench was the right move in this game as well as the first one against South Africa. The energy he provides is crucial to his team. As for Blanco, he doesn't have the stamina to play the full 90 anyway, so Aguirre doesn't have much choice.
- Speaking of Blanco, the penalty kick he took in the 79th minute to seal the game was picture perfect: a low, hard-hit ball into the left corner of the net. The French goalkeeper guessed correctly on the shot, but he still wasn't able to reach it. A great strike -- just what you would expect from Blanco, a three-time World Cup vet.
- Pablo Barrera was another outstanding sub for Aguirre. His speed and tenacity really made a difference for Mexico. Barrera was the one who was fouled in the box to set up Blanco's PK -- he was taken down by center defender Eric Abidal after beating Abidal around the corner. That play turned out to seal the decision for Mexico. Again, Aguirre's tactical decision making was top notch in this game.
- On the other hand, France continues to underachieve for Raymond Domenech. The French coach just doesn't seem to have the right touch. His starters play well, but not well enough to score. And his substitutes rarely push the team to a higher level. France has now had two disappointing tournament performances in a row: Euro Cup 2008 and this World Cup. This loss ensures that he won't be back as France's head coach.
- With that said, I think Florent Malouda had a good game for France. He started this time and made quite a bit of trouble for Mexico's defenders. His outside shot in the second half troubled goalkeeper Oscar Perez and represented France's best opportunity to score in the later stages of the game. I thought he played well.
- Conversely, Nicolas Anelka just can't seem to figure things out at the international level. He has started 29 games for France in his career and produced just eight goals (four of which came during qualification for Euro Cup 2008 and none of which have come during World Cup action). He looked lost again on Thursday and I imagine he'll lose his starting job on Tuesday when France plays South Africa.
- Mexico also plays on Tuesday in a much-anticipated showdown with Uruguay. The winner of that game will be the undisputed No. 1 seed in Group A and will likely play either South Korea or Greece in the next round. It will be interesting to see if Aguirre's defensive tactics can hold out Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan, who I think is the most impressive offensive player in the tournament right now.
- Being of Irish heritage, I'd be remiss not to mention the debt of gratitude Ireland owes Mexico for putting France on the brink of elimination. If not for a Thierry Henry hand ball against the Irish, France wouldn't be in the tournament at all. Now vengeance is a sweet pill. Millon de gracias, Mexico. You've made us all very happy.
- Finally, nobody celebrates a soccer victory like the Mexicans. They went absolutely nuts during the game, spraying each other with beer and champagne like it was Mardi Gras. It was great. Also, the amount of people that painted their face red, white and green had to have broken some kind of record. Face paint vendors in South Africa must be making a killing right now.