The Five Under-the-Radar Facets of Mexico's World Cup

Getting off to a strong start in this World Cup was always a possibility for El Tri - just not one that seemed very likely. I dare not rehash the tales of woe that constituted the qualifying campaign or the statistics on the numbers of managers that were in place. I will just say that Mexico have turned it on when it was most needed.

There are two main themes that are being used to explain Mexico's early success in the tournament. The first is the amazing play of Guillermo Ochoa. Miguel Herrera's tactical and mental steering of this squad being the other. Both of these factors should absolutely be highlighted. Ochoa had an incredible match in Fortaleza. His saves were certainly the difference between heading in to this Croatia match worrying about goal differential and going in with the advantage in the case of a potential draw. Miguel Herrera deserves all of the recognition he is getting and more. He has this team playing with determination. The desire of this team jumps off the screen and in to your living room. Herrera has pulled all the right strings and has turned this team around in such a short amount of time.

The plaudits should continue to be heaped on Ochoa and Herrera; they've been earned. Yet, there are some facets of Mexico's play that aren't getting the attention they rightly deserve.

5. Giovani Dos Santos fits just fine

Question marks surrounded Giovani Dos Santos before and after the naming of Miguel Herrera's 23-man roster. Would Gio be left off the roster? Could Gio replace Chicharito in the starting lineup? How would Gio fit in Herrera's system? The questions were legitimate.

We also have resounding answers. Dos Santos fits quite well in the system and is doing everything he can to be an impact player on the pitch. His attacking forays and intricate passing abilities have shown up in Brazil as expected with the welcome and unexpected addition of contributions on the defensive side. Dos Santos has tracked back well and broken up numerous possession. He's doing everything you'd want him to do, including putting the ball in the net (even if they aren't counted).

4. Layun/Aguilar disappearance

Nearly everything from these first two matches has been positive. The near disappearance of Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar has not been great for El Tri. The expectations in the build-up to Brazil included a heavy dose of the wing backs going forward. There was talk of Layun becoming a possible break-out star for Mexico. Thus far, this is not happening.

In fairness, Brazil forced Mexico's wingbacks to pick up more duties on the defensive end than they are normally accustomed. However, they haven't really done much on either end. Unsurprisingly, Aguilar has had some scary defensive moments while Layun has been absent from much of the proceedings.

They will need to have a much bigger presence against Croatia in stifling the play of their dangerous midfield while also pushing forward and exposing their aging fullbacks.

3. The maturation of Gallito to Gallo

No position caused as much stress in the lead up to this tournament as the defensive midfield spot. As it turns out, all of this fretting was in vain. Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez has more than lived up to the form we saw with his club team, Leon. Vazquez played out of his mind during that Brazil match and performed near Ochoa levels, without the same spotlight.

2. Two clean sheets

Mexico is playing with, in reality, amounts to a three-man backline. That defensive line consists of Hector Moreno, Rafa Marquez, and 'Maza' Rodriguez. Through 180 minutes of play, including 90 against the World Cup favorites, Mexico has not conceded a goal. Maza and Rafa anchoring a backline that will not give up a goal. This is happening - in real life.

Memo Ochoa has his gloved fingerprints all over this statistic, of course. However, he hasn't done it alone. Maza is getting the job done. Rafa is playing under control and rarely getting blatantly beat with speed. They are playing like the younger versions of themselves. I like it.

1. Andres Guardado's got game

If there was a Guardado Disbeliever Association (the GDA), I wouldn't have been the president, but there would have been a place for me in the governing body - preferably the traveling secretary. I didn't understand why he was included in the roster to go to Brazil. I couldn't believe when Herrera stuck him in midfield, which he seemed incapable of playing.

Guardado being in midfield was scary. His experience was cited. But if a significant portion of that experience was poor play, does it really count?

His place in midfield continues to be scary - for the opposition (see what I did there?) Guardado has owned his position in these two matches. He was the clear silver trophy winner of the Brazil match. He's doing a little bit of everything on the field at the moment, while not taking too many of his ridiculously off-target shots. Hats off to Andres Guardado; I didn't know he had it in him. 



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