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Mexico's midfield gains praise for vintage performance

NATAL, Brazil -- Cameroon midfielder Eyong Enoh looked like a tired man as he walked through the mixed zone underneath Estadio das Dunas, and with good reason. The Ajax midfielder spent the vast majority of Friday's 1-0 loss to Mexico chasing and chasing and chasing without seeing much of the ball.

To Enoh, the reason was simple. It was a numbers game in midfield, one with which the Indomitable Lions never quite coped. In the end, Cameroon's 4-3-3 proved no match for El Tri's 3-5-2.

"I think the tactical formation was a little more difficult for us," he said. "They had five in the middle and we had just three. That meant we had no possession. They kept the ball, and made us run a lot. I think that's what really made the difference."

Mexico wingbacks Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layun were constantly getting into the attack, and while both lacked end product, it did result in Mexico owning the ball. When asked if wingers Eric Choupo-Moting and Benjamin Moukandjo should have done more to help out defensively, Enoh indicated that was only part of the problem.

"I think the wingers coming into the midfield would have done a lot to help for us," he said. "Not only coming in, but coming in and playing more aggressive. The Mexican team was more aggressive than us."

Save for a late flurry from Cameroon, it led to complete and utter domination by El Tri. Mexico had a 2-to-1 edge in possession in the first half, and a 58 percent to 42 percent advantage in the game. Finding the net after some nifty approach work proved to be a problem, though the assistant referee on the near side had something to do with that, appearing to wipe off two perfectly good goals. But Mexico kept at their task.

Cameroon's defense had a difficult time with Mexico's wingbacks.

"I think when it was 0-0, and they don't [give us] the goal, it was very frustrating for us," Layun said. "We just know that we have to work harder against that, and we just did the things to win."

That they did, thanks to Oribe Peralta's second-half goal, as well as a complete performance from Hector Herrera. But even as El Tri huffed and puffed to find a breakthrough against Cameroon, Mexico manager Miguel Herrera said he was never worried.

"We worked really well on offense and defense," he said after the match through a translator. "Concentration is fundamental. I was sure if they were concentrating, we would be fine. At no time did they lose their focus. They were thinking of the match and not thinking about anything else."

It was arguably the most impressive performance Mexico has delivered since Herrera took over late last year. And it certainly served to put El Tri's stuttering World Cup qualifying campaign further into the background. The players were inclined to agree.

"It's a lot of things together," said Mexico's Rafa Marquez, who is captaining El Tri at a World Cup for a record fourth time. "We are one team, completely together."

Added Layun: "I think we have been doing the things very well, but this game was very important and we all know that. Everyone did the things everyone needs to do and it was a great game for all of us."

The win did even more than give Mexico three points. It eases the pressure that is this side's constant companion, especially with next week's match against Brazil looming.

"We will come out with everything we are going out to win," Herrera said. "The expectations on Brazil are enormous. They have all the pressure on them."

For once.