Slow start leaves Mexico to defuse their own soccer crisis

Leave a comment

After the eight days of turmoil that has surrounded the U.S. and Jurgen Klinsmann, we’re very familiar with what goes into a soccer crisis. So let’s consider the U.S.’s rivals to the south, a team with a history of near-breakthroughs who were supposed to finally transcend CONCACAF this cycle. They won Olympic gold this summer, have as big a talent edge in the region as they’ve had since the late 1980s, and were expected to roll through CONACAF qualifying. Mexico was supposed to become a global, not regional power.

Instead El Tri sits fifth out of six teams after Tuesday’s 0-0 with the United States. Shut out over 180 minutes at Azteca, Mexico’s already dropped four points at home. And remember the qualifying cliché: You have to win your home games (even if nobody in CONCACAF wins them all).

That last part may be the most disappointing part of Mexico’s start. Their schedule hasn’t been particularly hard, especially when contrasted with their rivals’. The United States sit one point ahead of El Tri, and they’ve already finished what are arguably their two most difficult trips: to Mexico City and San Pedro Sula (insert nod to Saprissa here). While Mexico did just finished a historically troublesome trip to Honduras, they also failed to win home games against the States and Jamaica.

Mexico should have expected at least six points from these first three rounds, if not nine (given the talent on this team). Instead, they have three. Thirty percent of the way through CONCACAF’s final round, those results demand some kind of scrutiny.

That scrutiny isn’t about whether Mexico will qualify for Brazil – they will. It isn’t about whether they have the talent to meet their fans’ ambitions, because we’ve seen how this team performs when it’s clicking. The scrutiny needs to be about whether they’re getting the most out of their talent. Or, when they’ll get the most out of their talent.

(MORE: Omar Gonzalez – Man of the Match.)

And let’s be real about this: That kind of language is code for “is this the right coach?” Even typing that out, part of me thinks it’s ludicrous to question Jose Manuel de la Torre – a man who has yet to lose a competitive match. Yet when a team’s results not only fail to meet expectations but their play is starting to regress, you have to ask whether the side’s headed in the wrong direction. And if you determine it is, the question becomes whether the man at the helm is also the best man to lead their recovery.

It’s two months before Mexico plays again, and Mexican futbol will immediately start debating Jose Manuel de la Torre’s performance, he’s likely to survive until El Tri goes to Jamaica on June 4th. But three days later, Mexico’s in Panama, then they host Costa Rica ahead of the Confederations Cup. Particularly with those two road games, things don’t look to get much easier for “Chepo” going forward.

That’s why there may be some urgency here. If something is deemed wrong with the team, can the FMF risk it? Can they risk letting an under-performing go to two tough road matches with the possibility of coming out the other end winless through five rounds?

Of course not. In a Hex that’s looking deeper than ever, round five may prove too late to guarantee a top three finish without others’ help.

(MORE: A little luck needed to get result in Mexico)

That’s the process that will be going on the media over the next two months: Do we make a change? If not now, when? Where do we need to be come after June’s qualifiers? And is it worth waiting to see if that happens?

For a coach of Chepo’s stature, it seems unfathomable that three draws could guide him out the door. But the pieces are starting to fall into place.

You think the U.S. was in crisis last week? Imagine that plus Mexico’s expectations, plus a disappointing result against your arch rivals. Because right now, El Tri‘s approaching DEFCON 1.

Kane scores early and late, England narrowly top Tunisia

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
1 Comment

England’s 2018 World Cup debut began brilliantly, then appeared headed for a disappointingly familiar outcome, but was ultimately saved by Harry Kane who scored both goals in the Three Lions’ 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

England came sprinting out of the starting blocks — so quickly they nearly took flight — and taking an early lead through Harry Kane in the 11th minute (WATCH HERE). John Stones‘ header was spectacularly saved by Mouez Hassen, but Kane was in the right place at the right time and swept home the rebound for his first World Cup goal (on his World Cup debut).

The opening half-hour was all England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling cutting through the Tunisian midfield and defense with very little resistance and creating a half-dozen golden scoring chances. Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate‘s side, they couldn’t capitalize, and they were made to pay for it.

Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a raised arm as an innocuous cross came into the box, prompting referee Wilmar Roldan to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot immediately. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and converted, just out of reach of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps got a fingertip on the ball (WATCH HERE), to make it 1-1 and negate an otherwise dominant first-half performance by England. It would be Tunisia’s only shot on goal for the game.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

England’s best chance to re-establish a lead came during a six-yard-box scramble just seconds before halftime. Alli’s header hit the crossbar and Stones badly scuffed — nearly whiffed — on the follow-up. Kane was dragged to the ground during the rest of the commotion, to no interest of Roldan.

It took far longer than anyone back home in England would have liked, but Kane grabbed the winner in the 91st minute, heading home from acres of space at the back post. Jordan Henderson got the first crack at heading the corner kick, but it was blocked and bound high into the air. Somehow, some way, Kane was unmarked and snuck his redirect just inside the post.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Up next for England is a meeting with Panama on Sunday, a day after Tunisia take on Belgium, who thrashed the Panamanians, 3-0, on Monday.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

Leave a comment

England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

Getty Images
Leave a comment

All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.