Lozano boosts superstar credentials by leading Mexico's comeback vs. Trinidad
SAN LUIS POTOSI, Mexico -- Mexico came from behind to rally late and defeat Trinidad and Tobago 3-1 on Friday night in Estadio Alfonso Lastras.
The result leaves Mexico on 21 points and on course for a record haul of 24 in CONCACAF's Hexagonal stage of qualifying, if it can defeat Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday. Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Mexico rallies in emotional atmosphere
What a finish. This was a game Mexico largely dominated, but with 25,000 fans behind El Tri, the team couldn't find a goal.
Instead, Trinidad and Tobago's Shahdon Winchester caught the hosts out in the 66th minute, and from there the prospect of losing was a reality. But this Mexico team under Juan Carlos Osorio has steel, and it found a way to avoid what would've been a highly disappointing result, though not a disastrous one, considering El Tri is already qualified for the World Cup.
Osorio threw on Carlos Vela, Oribe Peralta and Hirving Lozano in the second half as Mexico searched for the goal, and it was winger Lozano who stepped up to equalize. The tension lifted and Mexico piled forward, with Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez putting El Tri ahead and then Hector Herrera adding the third in injury time.
Osorio's experiment -- as he warned ahead of the match -- was to play two left-footed players in the more advance midfield roles. Osorio opted for Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos, but it seemed to disrupt the balance of the side.
Hernandez had the best chance one minute before halftime, but he couldn't find the goal following a cross from Jesus "Tecatito" Corona.
Osorio changed things up slightly in the second half. Dos Santos -- and then Vela after he replaced his friend on the hour mark -- was given a freer role almost alongside Hernandez in what turned from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-4 formation. Guardado and Herrera provided the platform as Mexico pushed for the goal.
An exquisite Hector Moreno pass to Herrera in the 55th minute should've seen Mexico go ahead, but the Porto midfielder, having initially controlled well, delayed in getting his shot away.
Meanwhile, Trinidad's steady performance was almost going unnoticed. And there were valid reasons for that. Figureheads such as Kenwyne Jones weren't present, the Soca Warriors were already out of contention for a World Cup place, and the emotional meaning of the game for El Tri dominated the buildup.
But Dennis Lawrence's side was organized from the start, showed one or two glimpses of attacking promise, some real resolve and even maturity and shrewdness in breaking up Mexico's play with niggling fouls. But when Levi Garcia provided for Winchester's fine finish past Jesus Corona, the Trinidad and Tobago bench -- including Sol Campbell -- erupted in celebration.
A neat finish from Lozano, a typical goal-poaching effort from Hernandez and then Herrera putting the icing on the cake made it a comfortable win on paper, but it was anything but in reality.
2. Lozano boosts superstar credentials
Lozano is on the fast track to becoming a genuine superstar of this Mexican national team.
In El Tri's last home World Cup qualifier against Panama, Lozano came on and scored the winning goal, and on Friday the winger came off the bench again to help rescue a result.
Lozano's path, barring a patchy Olympics, has been almost flawless. He scored a goal in Estadio Azteca in his debut as a teenager for Pachuca to win the Liga MX title, became a regular for Mexico, moved and made an impact in Europe at PSV and is now becoming an increasingly key figure for El Tri.
Even with the likes of Vela, Raul Jimenez and Peralta warming up on the sidelines, the fans wanted "Chucky" Lozano and chanted his name repeatedly.
The sky really does appear to be the limit, and Osorio will struggle to keep him out of the starting lineup come Russia 2018.
3. Occasion bigger than the game
The magnitude 7.1 earthquake Sept. 19 in Mexico, the more than 300 lives it took and the destruction it caused, naturally made football a distant thought as the country clubbed together to help those affected.
Although Liga MX matches have since taken place -- not yet in Mexico City -- this national team game felt like an event that was bigger than the match itself or the World Cup qualifying points at stake. And it seemed appropriate that stars such as Hernandez, Guardado and Corona were present for the occasion.
The emergency services that helped in the rescue effort came onto the pitch before the players, and a huge Mexican flag was unveiled on the pitch as the anthems played. During the Mexican anthem, players and fans stood with fists raised and there was palpable emotion in the air.
Rescue dog Frida, who became a symbol of the rescue effort and subsequently a national icon, was also presented with an award. She helped save 12 people among the Mexico City rubble.
It seemed at moments as if the game was an afterthought, and perhaps the emotional side of the buildup affected the Mexico players, who started slowly and struggled to really put on a show until turning around their late deficit.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.