Henry’s late heroics lift El Tri to victory over Jamaica

Henry Martín salutes his mates with a fist pump after netting the game-winning goal against Jamaica in Mexico's opening World Cup qualifier. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Henry Martín salutes his mates with a fist pump after netting the game-winning goal against Jamaica in Mexico's opening World Cup qualifier. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
El Tri v Jamaica
Mexico coach Gerardo Martino reacts in disbelief after a defensive mistake allowed Jamaica to tie the score in minute 65. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

A late Henry Martín goal boosted El Tri past a pesky Jamaica and lifted Mexico into first place after the first round of Concacaf World Cup qualifiers.

A 65th-minute goal by Jamaica’s Shamar Nicholson canceled an Alexis Vega strike (50’) and it appeared the Caribbean side might escape Estadio Azteca with a point until the América Aguilas goleador pounced on a loose ball just inside the box and drilled it past Philly Union keeper Andre Blake.

Elsewhere on the first night in the Concacaf Octagonal, visiting Costa Rica battled Panama to a scoreless draw while Team USA settled for the same result in El Salvador. In Toronto, Canada and Honduras traded penalty kicks to produce a 1-1 tie.

These results leave El Tri atop the Concacaf table with 3 points, six teams all even with 1 point and Jamaica in the cellar with naught. The next round of games – Panama at Jamaica; Honduras at El Salvador; Mexico at Costa Rica; Canada at USA – takes place Sunday.

El Tri squeaks out win for ‘Tata’

Welcome to Concacaf qualifying, coach Martino!

Mexico played a spotty first 45 minutes, occasionally interrupted by indifferent refereeing, while failing to generate a single shot on net until Luis Romo blazed a low shot from 20 meters that was body-blocked by Blake.

The one good first-half scoring chance created by El Tri was squandered by Rogelio Funes Mori who skidded a point-blank header wide of the back post off a pinpoint cross from Jorge Sánchez.

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Three El Tri Olímpico teammates combined to get Mexico on the scoreboard shortly after the restart. Romo, on the right flank, dropped a pass inside to Roberto Alvarado who let fly from well outside the box. Jamaica defender Damion Lowe blocked the shot with his head but it deflected off a teammate to Vega just beyond the back post. The Chivas winger stepped inside his marker, faked a shot, then slithered a worm-burner past a lunging Blake.

The lead was short-lived, however, as Sánchez stumbled while backing up to make a headed clearance just 15 minutes later, bundling the ball right to an onrushing Nicholson at the top of the box, and his left-footed blast skimmed past a sprawling Guillermo Ochoa.

That equalizer came just over a minute after Alvarado wasted a glorious chance to make it 2-0. The Cruz Azul winger clanged a shot off the back-side post from 10 meters after an under pressure Funes Mori had generously squared the ball to the wide-open “Piojo.” The anguish was multiplied moments later when Jamaica drew even.

Changes come late, but just in time

Coach Martino didn’t make his first adjustments until minute 75, leaving an increasingly frantic El Tri just a quarter-hour to find a way around a parked bus.

In minute 76, sub Orbelín Pineda was denied at the near post when his close-range header was parried by the suddenly busy Blake. El Tri fired off 16 second-half shots, five of which were on target.

“Tata” opted for a second striker in minute 81, sending on Henry to play up front alongside Funes Mori. Mexico pressed forward but desperation seemed to have taken hold of Martino’s men.

As the game wound down, Jesús Gallardo badly sprayed a shot from a sharp angle when maintaining possession would have been preferable, and Sánchez lofted an aimless cross from the right wing that was easily corralled by Blake.

Then, out of nowhere, the opportunistic Martín pounced.

Defender César Montes carried forward inside the right channel, then sent a pass straight into a crowd. A hustling Romo got an outstretched toe on the ball, redirecting it right into the path of his Tokyo teammate who one-timed a bullet into the top right corner of the net.

Just like that, as the clock ticked 89, El Tri led 2-1. Mexico saw out the victory, clambering back to its feet just in time to nab all 3 points.

Next. Santos sensation Santi Muñoz off to Newcastle. dark

Notes: El Tri played in an empty Estadio Azteca, the penalty assessed by FIFA after the latest incident of discriminatory behavior by its fans. FIFA had originally imposed a two-game ban, but it was reduced last week upon appeal. … Seven starters for Mexico won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics (Guillermo Ochoa, Jorge Sánchez, César Montes, Luis Romo, Sebastián Córdova, Roberto Alvarado, and Alexis Vega). … El Tri hits the road for its next two games: at Costa Rica on Sept. 5 and at Panama on Sept. 8.