Mexico reached their first Copa America knockout round since 2007 with a 2-0 win over Jamaica in a rematch of last year’s Gold Cup. Much to the delight of the majority of the over 86,000 who packed the Rose Bowl, El Tri were able to come away with the win that not only put them in the knockout stage, but also helped them top Group C on goal difference; a top place finish would see them avoid a quarterfinal matchup against tournament favorites Argentina.
Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, ever the tinkerman, made four changes to the team that beat Uruguay in the emotionally thrilling opener. Changes included Guillermo Ochoa in goal over Alfredo Talavera, Yasser Corona in defense for Diego Reyes, Jesus Dunas for suspended captain Andres Guardado, and Raul Jimenez up top for Javier Aquino.
Besides the changes made to the starting XI, Osorio also changed the players’ positioning on the field; while Duenas was placed in the starting XI for Guardado, it was Porto man Miguel Layun who took Guardado’s spot on the left side of the midfield partnering next to his club teammate Hector Herrera. Captain and 37-year-old veteran Rafael Marquez played a defensive midfield role last night instead of the middle man of the back three; instead, it was Yasser Corona who played in this role. Jimenez, who usually plays as a center forward, did well as one of the outside forwards in his spacing in spreading out the Jamaican defenders, while also helping track back on defense.
With so much going on personal-wise with Mexico, it was Jamaica who started off the better of the two teams as they used their direct style and speed to combat a Mexico side that was struggling to get out of first gear. Still, it was Mexico who struck first when a recycled cross from Jesus Corona on the left side of the field found Chicharito Hernandez, who powered home the header to give Mexico a 1-0 lead 18 minutes into the match. With the goal, Chicharito now sits only one goal behind Jared Borgetti on Mexico’s all-time leading goalscoring chart.
Instead of folding, Jamaica came back strong and were able to create a few good half-chances thanks to a combination of Mexico’s grit and sloppy play, often giving the ball away far too easily in tough spots. However, Ochoa would come up big with a few nice saves to keep the Reggae Boyz at bay.
In the second half, it was Mexico who started off the better of the teams in the opening 10 minutes, but with a flat footed backline and a defense pressed too high up, the Caribbean side were able to get behind El Tri’s defense far too easily with a long ball and a quick flick. Better finishing could have easily led to Jamaica making the game more complicated for Mexico, but Osorio soon put in defensive midfielder Jesus Molina, who did a fantastic job of shutting down any counterattack. The best example of his influence was Jamaica quickly winning the ball in their own half, and before they were able to break a cheeky harmless foul from Molina stopped the play; this allowed for Mexico to get players behind the ball, and didn’t result in a yellow or any more trouble for Molina or Mexico.
In reality, Osorio hit the mark on all three of his subs as Hirving Lozano came on with a half an hour left for Jesus Corona; from his first touch, he terrorized the Jamaican backline with his relentless running and attacking on the left side. Meanwhile, the last sub, Oribe Peralta, was able to pick up the second goal of the game with a nice little back post finish on the ground after Herrera made a move in the box.
Mexico’s night was capped off with one more save by Ochoa as a shot from the outside of the box saw the Malaga keeper fly through the air to bat away the ball with his left hand to the roar of the Mexican crowd.
While Osorio won’t be pleased with how Mexico struggled, there is something to take away that they were able to get a win even when not playing at their best, especially in a tournament in which at the end of the day you’re judged on your results. If El Tri hope to make a real run at the cup they will need to improve, but regardless on this night Mexico took the three points to write them in a spot in the quarterfinals and at the same time eliminate Jamaica. The win also put Mexico’s unbeaten run at a world best 21 and their winning run at 11 games.
Up next for Mexico will be their trip to Houston to face Venezuela for a battle to see which team finishes first in the group. Both sit with six points after two games. The winner of the match wins the group and most likely avoids Argentina, while a draw would mean Mexico tops the group because of Mexico’s superior goal difference.