Mexico defeated Iraq 4-0 in a World Cup warm-up match that was little more than a leisurely stroll in the park … a rather wet park by the time the final whistle blew, as it turned out, but that did not turn out to be an encumbrance.
The friendly contest in Girona, Spain, was the first of two practice matches for El Tri before Gerardo Martino’s men travel to Qatar ahead of their Nov. 22 World Cup opener against Poland.
There are probably not too many new conclusions “Tata” can draw from Wednesday’s game as Iraq put up little resistance and El Tri spent a considerable amount of time discreetly yo-yoing passes in an around its offensive third.
At the other end of the pitch, ack-up goalie Alfredo Talavera didn’t see a single shot all night though he did come off his line to corral a speculative pass that drifted into Mexico’s box in minute 25. Other than that, the FC Juárez goalie spent the bulk of the match staring into the sparsely populated grandstand.
El Tri gets off to fast start, then drifts into indifference
Alexis Vega put Mexico ahead just 4 minutes in, knocking home a beautiful curling cross from Jesús Gallardo with a sliding volley. Gallardo galloped down the left flank in pursuit of a brilliant lead pass from Luis Chávez and deftly one-timed a centering pass that Vega met at the penalty spot.
A few minutes later, Chávez was denied by Iraqi back-liner Karrar Amer who headed away a Chávez header destined for the back post. Gallardo was the supplier again.
But the rest of the half, El Tri sat back with possession (78% through the first 45 minutes) and showed little ambition. When an opening was spotted – or misidentified – careless passing interrupted momentum.
Martino made six changes to open the second half and just 3 minutes after the restart, subs Uriel Antuna and Rogelio Funes Mori had doubled Mexico’s lead. Antuna made a nifty move to chase a lead pass down the right flank then zipped a low cross to Funes Mori at the near post and the Monterrey man toe-picked the ball into the roof on the short side.
That one moment of genius no doubt got Martino’s attention as he might face a last-minute selection decision if Raúl Jiménez is not fully fit. And Funes Mori improved his chances of making it an easy decision.
In minute 67, Gallardo capped off his superb night with a left-footed blast off the underside of the crossbar to extend the lead. The fullback is a likely starter for El Tri but his recent performances have been less than convincing. In this instance, the Monterrey left back was the clear-cut Man of the Match.
Mexico capped off its scoring with a gift in stoppage time from ref Guillermo Cuadra Fernández. The Spanish official awarded a penalty kick to El Tri in minute 90 although the ball clearly struck Amir Al Ammari in the back.
Antuna strutted up to the spot and converted, earning some points in his bid to make the final cut. Along with winger Roberto Alvarado (90 minutes), midfielder Erick Sánchez (45 minutes) and defender Jesús Angulo (45 minutes), Antuna is on the roster bubble.
After the coming weekend, El Tri will be joined by 10 players currently still engaged with European club duties. Coach Martino has until Monday to submit his final 26-man list to FIFA and then Mexico will face Sweden (also in Girona) on Nov. 16.