Lozano and Lukaku exchange braces as Mexico draw with Belgium in Brussels
BRUSSELS -- Three quick thoughts from Mexico's 3-3 friendly draw against Belgium on Friday night.
1. Lozano shines in goalfest
If the World Cup next summer produces many games with as much attacking emphasis as this, we are in for a treat.
Belgium and Mexico only really had a forward gear, defending pretty much one on one at the back and entertaining the crowd at King Baudouin Stadium in their 3-3 draw. The result extended Belgium's undefeated run to 14 games.
A lot of the debate ahead of this friendly centered around how Mexico's defense would contain the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, but it was Mexico's young starlet Hirving Lozano -- who is on fire for PSV in the Eredivisie -- who was the brightest forward on the field, even if Lukaku did also score twice.
Lozano was involved in all three of Mexico's goals, scoring the final two and also playing his part in Javier Hernandez -- who exited in the second half clutching his hamstring -- winning the penalty, which Andres Guardado stroked in to level Eden Hazard's 39th-minute opener, 20 minutes after Belgium had taken the lead.
It was Lukaku who scrambled Belgium back into the lead 10 minutes after halftime, before Lozano netted 60 seconds later. The game, which was as end-to-end as you are going to get, then turned in Mexico's favor as Lozano volleyed in from the edge of the area. Lukaku equalized from close range in the 70th to level the scores.
Lukaku's talents are already known on the world stage, but for Lozano, who has reportedly been scouted by some of Europe's biggest clubs, this felt like a breakout night. His pace and directness were a thorn in the side of the Belgian defense and his star is very much on the rise.
There may not have been a World Cup place on the line for Mexico, but this result and performance meant a lot. It was a confidence boost and validation that Juan Carlos Osorio's side can play attacking football and mix it with a team that is a genuine contender to lift the World Cup next summer.
For Belgium, the match highlighted that to play the type of football Roberto Martinez wants, it will require defenders of the calibre of missing trio Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld.
2. Osorio's tactical tweaks point way forward
There was one major change in Osorio's formation against Belgium. Like against the U.S. a year ago in Columbus, Ohio, the Colombian tactician stuck to his preferred 4-3-3 but opted for two holding midfielders instead of the usual one.
In the first half, Diego Reyes and Andres Guardado sat in front of the defense, with the naturally more attacking Guardado curbing his runs forward slightly in order to accompany Reyes and allow Hector Herrera a freer role. It didn't completely restrict Belgium -- not many teams are going to be able to totally dampen a team including Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku -- but Mexico did look comparatively more solid and it didn't take away from the attack.
Had Mexico undertaken the same midfield tweak in the heavy defeats under Osorio to Chile in the Copa America Centenario and Germany in the Confederations Cup, perhaps those games would've gone slightly differently. It certainly points to the manager realizing there has been an issue and being flexible enough to adapt.
The personnel, however, may need tweaking. Guardado is a joy to watch buzzing around midfield and intelligently moving the ball, but Reyes isn't quite so much. This wasn't a terrible performance from the Porto player, but Hazard turned him all too easily for the opening goal and he couldn't been positioned better for the second goal.
There's a sense Mexico could improve in that area. Edson Alvarez is still young and inexperienced at this level, but replaced Reyes in the 59th. The real player Mexico could do there, however, is Rafa Marquez, although he is 38 years old and is in the midst of some well-publicized legal problems.
But with Belgium defending so high up the pitch and often three against three, Marquez's vision and passing ability would've been a major asset. El Tri fans will remember Marquez's ball over the top for Hernandez in that 2010 World Cup match against France.
3. Lukaku back in the goals
"I think Romelu is an out-and-out goalscorer and his numbers reflect that," Martinez said in an interview with ESPN FC ahead of the game. "Only elite footballers get anywhere near his return in terms of goals so far in the Premier League."
The manager was justified in his comments on Friday's evidence, with perhaps Manchester United's lack of creation in the final third more to do with Lukaku not having scored a Premier League goal since Sept. 30 than anything the 24-year-old is doing wrong.
Neither of the goals he netted will be on his highlight reel, but he was in the right place at the right time. Flanked by Hazard and De Bruyne -- and Dries Mertens after halftime -- Lukaku is in the perfect environment with his national team and Belgium's attack remains a frightening prospect.
The less said about the defense on Friday, however, the better.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.