Mexico youth fail to take chances while Araujo injury cause for concern
ARLINGTON, Texas -- An Ivan Rakitic penalty in the second half was enough for Croatia to defeat Mexico 1-0 in front of 79,128 fans at AT&T Stadium, in a game that was marred by a serious-looking injury to Mexico defender Nestor Araujo.
Here are three takes on a disappointing night for Mexico
1. Youngsters fail to take chances
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio handed opportunities in the starting XI to Omar Govea, Jorge "Burrito" Hernandez and Rodolfo Pizarro as the Colombian sought to narrow his player pool to a 23 ahead of his team selection for Russia 2018.
The rest of the starters for Mexico were regulars and are assured of their places on the plane to the World Cup, barring injury, but those fringe players didn't seem to do enough to really bolster their chances of involvement this summer.
Govea played on the right of midfield in Osorio's 3-4-3 diamond formation and at times looked nervous, although it was asking a lot of the player to adapt to the new tactics.
The game seemed to pass by Govea and the largely anonymous Pizarro. Giovani dos Santos -- out of the Mexico squad because of a hamstring injury -- can probably rest a little easier, given Chivas' Pizarro is widely seen to be challenging for the same spot at the World Cup. Both Pizarro and Govea were brought off at halftime by Osorio.
Hernandez did last the full 90 minutes and, while he was the pick of the inexperienced bunch with his usual energy and work rate, didn't particularly excel, either.
To be fair to those three, the first half was collectively a disjointed display from Mexico and the players certainly appeared to be affected by Araujo being stretchered off in the 17th minute, leaving the pitch dejected after the first 45 minutes.
Croatia's side was shorn of regulars like Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric, but the Balkan team provided Mexico with a stern test at both ends of the field.
The halftime stats showed Croatia had three shots on goal to Mexico's zero, and the visiting team could've been a goal up at the break but for a fine save by Guillermo Ochoa from a Mateo Kovacic lobbed volley in the 39th minute.
Miguel Layun gave away the penalty for Croatia's opener in the 62nd with a clumsy challenge on Tin Jedvaj, making it a "Jekyll and Hyde" few days for the Sevilla player, given he netted twice for Mexico against Iceland in Friday's 3-0 win.
2. Mexico to wait and see on Araujo injury
In the same stadium as Luis Montes' World Cup dreams died ahead of the 2014 World Cup, Araujo suffered what looked to be a serious injury to his left knee in the 14th minute of Tuesday's game.
The Santos Laguna center back attempted to win the ball from Ante Rebic down Croatia's left and seemed to lose balance as he tried a sliding tackle and collided with the Croat. The pain on Araujo's face was obvious and players from both sides rushed to see if he was OK.
The decision was quickly made to replace Araujo with Diego Reyes, with the former being taken from the field on a stretcher and transferred to a local hospital.
The initial indications are that Araujo's injury was serious, and 79 days from the World Cup it would represent a bitter blow for Osorio and Mexico if he were unable to compete at Russia 2018.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on the rise of Hirving Lozano during the Osorio era, but Araujo's development has been exceptional. The 26-year-old Olympic gold-medal winner may have never played outside Mexico, but he has shown signs that he has the ability to feature for a European club and was looking like possibly the only Mexico-based World Cup starter for Mexico.
Aside from the injury to Araujo, there were also concerns about his replacement Reyes and Carlos Salcedo, both of whom came on as substitutes only to be taken off because of apparent injuries.
3. Mexico looked better in a 4-3-3
El Tri simply didn't look comfortable in the 3-4-3 formation in the first half.
The three center backs were stretched by Croatia's wide players opening the pitch up and inviting midfielders like Rakitic to burst through into the space on the inside channels.
Osorio will ponder just if the system can be of use against teams like Croatia that do have genuine attacking talent and players with technical ability. Against Iceland and physical teams that like to sit back, the idea is to insert another center back for aerial cover and enable Mexico to push another player forward in midfield to dominate possession and overwhelm the opposition.
When Mexico introduced Salcedo and Layun at halftime, things did improve, despite giving up the goal. Osorio played with Hernandez and substitute Jesus Molina as holding midfielders, and Mexico didn't concede as many chances and looked slightly more dangerous in the final third.
Overall, however, this was a night to forget for Mexico. The Araujo injury represented a bitter blow and the loss was El Tri's first in its past five games, all of which have been against European opposition.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.