Cocca uses second-choice line-up as Mexico eases past Guatemala

Uriel Antuna (left) helped spark Mexico's offense after coming off the bench in minute 56. El Tri defeated Guatemala 2-0. (Photo by Jam Media/Getty Images)
Uriel Antuna (left) helped spark Mexico's offense after coming off the bench in minute 56. El Tri defeated Guatemala 2-0. (Photo by Jam Media/Getty Images) /
El Tri Guatemala
Roberto de la Rosa slaps hands with Uriel Antuna after scoring Mexico’s second goal to help El Tri defeat Guatemala 2-0. (Photo by Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Raúl Jiménez converted a penalty kick in the first half and sub Roberto De la Rosa fired home a rebound in minute 80 as El Tri survived a tough test against Guatemala.

Diego Cocca’s makeshift line-up enjoyed the bulk of possession (59%) but generated very little offense and lacked creativity through midfield until a couple second-half substitutes provided a spark.

The friendly match in Mazatlán served as a warm-up for Mexico ahead of its Nations League showdown against Team USA on June 15, although it is unlikely that any of Wednesday’s starters will be in the starting line-up against the U.S.

El Tri next travels to San Diego where they’ll scrimmage Cameroon before making their way to Las Vegas for the grudge match between the neighboring Concacaf giants.

El Tri lacked ambition in the first half

Mexico was not crisp to open the match, and offensive flow was lacking. The tricolor played cautiously and Guatemala was pressing the ball effectively.

The team’s first scoring opportunity came off a corner kick in minute 12. Two Mexico players had looks inside the box but scuffed their shots, the ball leaking out to the back side where Jiménez took quick aim but a sliding Guatemala defender inadvertently handled the ball.

Raúl calmly slotted home, ending a 14-month drought with El Tri dating back to March 30, 2022, when Jiménez scored against El Salvador in a World Cup qualifier, also from the penalty spot.

Wednesday’s conversion was Raúl’s 13th, only one behind Alberto García Aspe for most penalty kick goals for El Tri. It also lifted Jiménez into 6th place on the all-time scoring list with 31 goals.

El Tri continued with its deliberate play, demonstrating very little creativity. Guatemala took advantage of the pragmatic posture and nearly found the equalizer in minute 39.

Luis Malagón made a wonderful reflex save to deny an Esteban García header off a corner kick, deflecting the close-range shot high over the crossbar.

A few minutes later, Mexico failed to effectively cover another corner kick and Malagón got a fingertip on a Rodrigo Saravia to preserve the shutout heading into halftime.

Subs provide spark

Mexico failed to cross midfield with possession for the first 5 minutes of the second half, perhaps forcing coach Cocca to alter his formation.

Luis Chávez and Uriel Antuna stepped onto the pitch in minute 56 and El Tri’s offense perked up immediately. The changes included a shift from a 5-4-1 to a 4-3-3 (which evolved into a 4-4-2 later on after additional substitutions).

Even so, the Central Americans enjoyed the better opportunities as Mexico proved careless in trying to clear the zone.

El Tri settled down and began doing a better job of attacking the final third, with Antuna proving a real nuisance on the right flank.

With 10 minutes remaining, De la Rosa carried forward down the right channel before filtering a through pass for Antuna to chase down. The Cruz Azul winger fired a low cross that a hustling Salvador Reyes redirected on net but Nicholas Hagen made a fine save.

Unfortunately, De la Rosa was the first to react and he powered a shot past two defenders on the short side to give El Tri a 2-0 lead.

José Antonio Rodríguez finished up the game between the pipes for Mexico, blocking a Pedro Aldán shot in minute 89 to preserve the clean sheet.

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Coach Cocca remains undefeated as El Tri boss (2-2-0) though it is hard to get excited about the team’s overall performance. Saturday’s match-up against Cameroon will be a more severe test.