NATAL, Brazil -- What looked to be a frustrating afternoon in the steady drizzle of the Estadio das Dunas ended in euphoria for Mexico. Driven on by a strongly pro-Mexico crowd, El Tri prevailed 1-0 over Cameroon thanks to Oribe Peralta's second-half goal.
Here are three quick thoughts on the match ...
1. Perseverance pays off for El Tri
For the first hour, it looked as if it was going to be another one of those days for Mexico, the kind it knows too well after struggling throughout World Cup qualifying.
Twice in the first half, it seemed that the near-side assistant referee took away what looked to be legitimate goals from El Tri. Hector Herrera, who was immense throughout the match, sent in a 14th-minute cross that was volleyed home by Giovani Dos Santos, only for the forward to be judged offside. Replays, however, seemed to show that the Villarreal man was even with the last defender.
Dos Santos was denied again in the 29th minute when he appeared to nod home Miguel Layun's inswinging corner kick. But although the Mexico playmaker was in an advanced position, Layun's cross was actually nodded on by Cameroon forward Eric Choupo-Moting.
Earlier this year, the International Football Association Board sought to clarify the offside rule, stating that "an attacker should be considered offside when 'gaining an advantage by being in that position' in situations that will now include receiving the ball from a rebound or deflection from the goal frame or a player in the defending team attempting a tackle, block or save." Whether Choupo-Moting's intervention was an intentional attempt to head the ball away or just a deflection will no doubt be open to interpretation, as such calls often are.
Dos Santos was then on the short end of a third call late in the first half when he appeared to be felled in the box by Cameroon defender Aurelien Chedjou; referee Wilmar Roldan signaled only for a corner kick.
In the second half, Dos Santos turned provider, touching Rodriguez's slick pass into the path of Oribe Peralta only for goalkeeper Charles Itandje to produce the save from close range. In the 61st minute, Mexico got what it deserved at last when Herrera's through ball found Dos Santos in stride on the edge of the box. His shot was saved by Itandje, but Peralta was there to clean up the mess and rifle home the rebound.
2. Possession is great, but end product is what matters
Despite the win, Mexico knows it has to be more efficient in the final third if it is to advance. Save for Herrera's aforementioned feed to Dos Santos, El Tri's service from wide positions was frustratingly inconsistent; Layun and Paul Aguilar posed more of a threat to Itandje's goal than they did to actually find their intended targets.
As a consequence, Mexico's massive first-half edge in possession -- 63 percent to 37 -- amounted to little. Set pieces proved a different matter, but even then Mexico literally couldn't get out of its own way. In the 27th minute, Andres Guardado put in a teasing free kick, but Rafa Marquez put his header wide, even though teammate Hector Moreno appeared to be in a much better position.
Fortunately for El Tri, the second half proved kinder thanks to the stellar link-up play of Herrera, Dos Santos and Peralta.
Of course, a goal-poacher like Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez can help immensely when it comes to finishing off stellar approach work. The Manchester United striker finally entered the match in the 74th minute but had little impact on the proceedings; his only effort was high and wide on a golden opportunity in stoppage time that would have put the game away.
All told, if Mexico manager Miguel Herrera can coax more precise service from wide areas out of Layun and Aguilar, El Tri will be very tough to beat indeed.
3. Cameroon's midfield and Samuel Eto'o disappoint
Mexico has long been a team with loads of technical ability, and, for that reason, it has proved to be a side adept at keeping the ball. But given the experience and ability of Cameroon's midfield, this was an area in which the Indomitable Lions figured to be more competitive. Instead they were dominated, often dropping very deep in the face of Mexico's onslaught and generating very little in terms of attack until desperation forced them to take more risks. Granted, Cameroon suffers from the lack of a pure midfield playmaker, but one would have expected the Indomitable Lions to do better.
Cameroon captain Eto'o is another who will walk away from Friday's defeat feeling disappointed. One of the few times Cameroon threatened in the first half came in the 21st minute -- left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto skated past Francisco Rodriguez and put his cross on a platter for Eto'o, only for the Cameroon captain to graze the outside of the post with his shot.
It was a chance one would expect Eto'o to bury, given his pedigree (Chelsea fans might not agree), and, had he done so, the self-doubt that often plagues Mexico surely would have crept in. Instead, it proved to be an immense let-off. On a day when chances were scarce for the Indomitable Lions, the captain's miss loomed large.