It has taken Mexico the best part of four long years to climb their way back into the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. A key factor in their revival was the appointment of Jose Manuel de la Torre as coach, who has overseen a steady rise up the Ranking, culminating in a 19-place jump to ninth this month.
That surge up the table came after the Mexicans fought back to beat USA in last Sunday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup final. “We were stunned at going 2-0 down,” said De la Torre in reference to the Americans’ fast start in the Pasadena showpiece. “But the team kept pushing forward, and that isn’t easy to do because there’s always the danger of conceding again if you make a mistake. This has made us mentally stronger. It’s not easy at all to come back like this against USA.”
The man with the Midas touch
De la Torre took charge of Mexico in October 2010 and has yet to taste defeat. In 11 games under their new boss El Tri have recorded nine wins and two draws, scoring 32 goals and conceding only seven, statistics that reflect his insistence on tactical discipline, team work and a fine balance between attack and defence.
In successfully defending the Gold Cup title they won in 2009, the Mexicans overcame the first major test of De la Torre’s reign and extended an unbeaten run in the competition that now extends all the way back to 2007. And as well as catapulting them back up the Ranking, their latest CONCACAF triumph has earned them a coveted place at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013.
The team kept pushing forward... This has made us mentally stronger.
De la Torre’s main achievement at the Gold Cup was to find a winning blend of experience and youth. In perming old hands such as Rafael Marquez, Carlos Salcido and Gerardo Torrado with young guns Javier Chicharito Hernandez, Giovani Dos Santos and Pablo Barrera, he forged a solid and highly effective unit capable of attacking at pace and defending in depth.
El Tri showcased those assets in powering past Costa Rica, El Salvador and Cuba in the group phase, scoring 14 goals and conceding just one. In disposing of Guatemala in the quarter-finals, Honduras in the semis and, to their great satisfaction, old foes USA in the final, they struck a further eight times and conceded only three goals, facts and figures that underline their regional supremacy.
Sunday’s 4-2 comeback win over their northern neighbours was their second successive victory in what has become known as El Clásico de la CONCACAF. “We didn’t want the team to lose their shape because USA are good at exploiting things like that,” commented De la Torre afterwards. “They caught us out with the first goal and we left ourselves a bit too open for the second. Fortunately, we kept our cool and came out on top.”
A promising future
The hard work of recent months has paid off, with De la Torre hitting on a settled side in which every player knows their job. And with a posse of young stars now pursuing high-profile careers in Europe, El Tri look well placed ahead of the qualifying competition for the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014™.
The mental strength this new-look Mexico showed in storming back against the Stars and Stripes suggests that lessons have been learned and that the psychological frailties of old have been addressed. And in reasserting their authority in the CONCACAF Zone, De la Torre’s charges have given themselves a solid platform for further progress.