Five things we learned from Mexico vs. Cameroon
Three vital points.
Miguel Herrera admitted ahead of his team's 1-0 victory over Cameroon that he didn't care about Friday's scoreline. The only thing he demanded was a win in Mexico's opening Group A match.
As it happened, the manner of Mexico's triumph would've been pleasing to both El Tri fans and the coach, with the only downside that it wasn't by a greater margin in a group that could well go down to goal difference.
Here are five things we learned:
1. Mental strength is there
If you are being really honest, you half expected Mexico's players and manager to lose their heads slightly after the injustice -- as TV replays showed -- of two incorrectly disallowed goals by Giovani Dos Santos inside the first 30 minutes.
You could almost visualize the "Mexico robbed!" headlines on the front of newspapers. But for a side that showed a distinct lack of character during qualifying, this was a mature, relentless display, with players doing their jobs and picking up the three points under testing circumstances. The heavy rain made the pitch in Natal anything but an easy surface on which to play swift, passing football along the ground, but El Tri got the job done.
It bodes well moving forward.
2. Giovani Dos Santos was the right choice upfront
The Villarreal forward edged out Javier Hernandez for the starting spot and scored two Chicharito-esque goals in the first half, even if they were ruled out.
Aside from that, Dos Santos was excellent playing off Oribe Peralta, justifying Herrera's assertion beforehand that there is chemistry in the partnership.
Dos Santos was a headache for Cameroon's defense with his movement and was also key in El Tri's only goal. After years of inconsistency for both club and country, Dos Santos has matured. He looked much more like the player many believed he would become when he first broke into the national team.
3. Rafa Marquez makes history
Mexico's No. 4 made history on Friday, with Marquez becoming the first player ever to captain his country at four different World Cups.
Along with Dos Santos and Hector Herrera, he was one of Mexico's brightest spots, keeping former Barcelona teammate Samuel Eto'o's involvement to a minimum, flying in front of one shot late on and displaying his usual poise in possession.
Marquez may never be the most popular player, but when he plays like that, it is difficult not to take a step back and appreciate just how important he has been -- and still is -- to Mexican soccer.
4. Midfield trio worked
A key ingredient in any side is how the midfield makes it tick, and Herrera had been indecisive in the warm-up games as to which players he preferred.
Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez ended up in the holding role, with Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado in front. It worked on Friday, with Vazquez stepping up well, pressuring Cameroon into mistakes and distributing the ball to the wings with skill. In front, Guardado misplaced a couple of key passes when killer-balls seemed to be on, but did the ugly side of the game well, covering a lot of ground and linking midfield play.
5. Cameroon unlikely to pick up points
As good as Mexico was, Cameroon flattered to deceive and El Tri could still rue those disallowed goals if Group A goes down to goal difference.
The problems that have plagued the Indomitable Lions (who looked more like sleeping ones at times) in the buildup to Brazil 2014 were apparent, with little cohesiveness between the lines.
Mexico could do with the African side taking points off Croatia and/or Brazil, but it looks very unlikely, especially if Cameroon goes into the final game having lost against Croatia in its second game.
Tom Marshall has been based in Guadalajara since 2008 and has written about Mexican football ever since. Find him on Twitter @MexicoWorldCup.