Chile 2 – 1 Mexico
Parades 66′ Araujo 40′
Estadio del Bicentenario, July 5th – Group C
At last, someone has delivered. It was looking like the time had come to just give up with the whole favourites tag. Argentina disappointed; Colombia disappointed; Brazil disappointed; Uruguay disappointed. But no, Chile finally gave us a very good performance; it wasn’t a resounding win, but Chile were dominant, controlling possession, creating chances and (mostly) defending comfortably against a young Mexico side.
Claudio Borghi looks to continue the work of Marcelo Bielsa, whose Chile side stole the hearts of neutrals in South Africa with their commitment to attacking football. The team lined up in a 3-4-1-2 system with a focus on a pass-and-move philosophy, where even centre-backs Gonzalo Jara and Pablo Contreras would overlap wingers Jean Beausejour and Mauricio Isla as if they were wing-backs.
Mexico, on the other hand, had a rather unique set-up of their own, employing what was broadly a man-marking system. Hiram Ricardo Mier and Nestor Araujo marked Humberto Suazo and Alexis Sanchez while Hector Reynoso played sweeper; wing-backs Paul Aguilar and Darvin Chavez picked up the wingers; Diego Reyes kept an eye Matias Fernandez; Jorge Enriquez squared up to Arturo Vidal; Giovani Dos Santos tracked Gary Medel; and the strikers stopped the defenders.
It wasn’t pure man-marking: they would stick very close to their man, but if he ventured too far out of their zone he would be passed on to another player, and gaps would be covered by other players. For example, if Vidal had come deep to get the ball, bringing Enriquez up the pitch with him, Dos Santos would drop back into the midfield line. Really disciplined stuff for what is very much a young and inexperienced side.
Not that it always worked: Suazo fluffed a good chance in the first half only created because Fernandez was left free – Reyes had gone to win the ball, done so then gone to mark the wrong player, leaving Chile’s attacking midfielder in acres of space. Plus, some simple movement was often enough to open up a gap in behind the Mexican players for a Chilean pass.
Still, it was really quite catenaccio-like, so when they stole a goal with a set-piece shortly before half-time, you could be forgiven for thinking Mexico might win. Chile had absolutely dominated them, yet, crucially, Mexico had the lead.
Unfortunately for the Mexicans, their defending from set-pieces wasn’t quite up to the same standard, and they conceded two goals from them to gift Chile the win. They fully deserved their win, but it is worth considering that, despite their domination, they didn’t score from open play. Whether this says more about Chile or Mexico, we will have to wait until the next round to find out – for now, we can simply enjoy what was an entertaining and interesting match.