Four takeaways from Mexico’s 2-0 win over Honduras

Mexico skipper Edson Álvarez exults after scoring the goal that would force overtime during the Concacaf Nations League quarterfinal match vs. Honduras.. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Mexico skipper Edson Álvarez exults after scoring the goal that would force overtime during the Concacaf Nations League quarterfinal match vs. Honduras.. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Mexico Honduras takeaways
Mexico goalie Luis Malagón made two big saves during regulation and also stopped Honduras’ first penalty kick during the shoot-out while serving as stand-in for the injured Guillermo Ochoa. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Mexico waited until late to score against underdog Honduras and force overtime, eventually sending their Concacaf Nations League quarterfinal match to penalty kicks before winning. But not without a bit of controversy.

Canadian official Drew Fischer twice buzzed down from his seat in the VAR booth to alert Salvadoran official Iván Barton that Honduras goalie Eric Menjivar had come off his line early. Not once, but twice. On the same shooter. Mexico’s César Huerta eventually converted on his third try to put Mexico up 4-2 in the shoot-out.

The result advances El Tri to the Concacaf Nations League semifinals and also earns Jaime Lozano’s squad a berth in the 2024 Copa América.

Here are four takeaways from drama-filled match at Estadio Azteca:

Concacaf officials breath a sigh of relief

Mexico is by far the most popular team in Concacaf as measured by attendance.

If El Tri had failed to overturn the 2-0 deficit from the first leg in Honduras, Concacaf bean-counters would have been faced with trying to sell a Final Four featuring Team USA, Panama, Jamaica and Honduras. No doubt, these officials were envisioning a pair of semifinals and the final of their new premier tournament played before half-filled stands, at best.

And it was a nerve-wracking wait as the game was deep into an extended stoppage time when Edson Álvarez poked home the equalizer.

With Mexico scraping by, there’s little doubt that the seats at Jerry World in Arlington, Texas, will be filled with fans for the Nations League semifinals in March. That’ll be a boon to the Concacaf account books.

Malagón makes his case

Luis Malagón made his first start in goal for El Tri in an official match a game to remember.

Serving as a stand-in for the injured Guillermo Ochoa, the Club América netminder came up with a huge save in minute 23, diving to his left to parry aside a long-range Jorge Álvarez blast that was destined for the back of the net.

That kept Mexico in the game because had that shot gone El Tri would have had to score four goals to survive.

Malagón then blocked Honduras’ first kick of the penalty shoot-out (after Santiago Giménez had put Mexico up 1-0) and then guessed right on the decisive fourth shot though it went wide, giving El Tri the victory.

The 26-year-old keeper is now seen as the heir apparent to the 38-year-old Ochoa and his performance should give his teammates – and fans – confidence that he can wear the No. 1 jersey.

Mexico coach now has plenty of doubters

After earning the support of Mexico fans by guiding El Tri to Gold Cup glory last summer while serving as interim coach, coach Lozano is now facing heat after the team’s spotty performance in the two games against Honduras.

Jimmy stuck with veterans and regulars whose best days are past (in some cases, long gone – we’re looking at you Jesús Gallardo) and was rather conformist in his tactics.

Instead of starting in-form players with little previous national team experience, Lozano fell back on familiar faces … and got predictable results – poor play.

Lozano’s stubborn reliance on a misaligned 4-3-3 merits criticism.

El Tri’s tactics have become very predictable. Control the ball at the back, swinging it side-to-side. Attack down the flanks looking for crosses, with wingers occasionally trying an inside move.

However, when the wingers are so ineffective, opponents can easily defend this and the single striker is basically taken out of the equation.

On Tuesday, Lozano used Erick Sánchez as an attacking midfielder, essentially a fourth forward, with little success. This begs the question, if you want a fourth forward, why not start with an actual forward. And especially in a game where you need to score at least twice to advance in the tournament.

Another option is to tinker with the 4-4-2. This formation would still allow for two wingers but it places two forwards in the box. Increasingly, both Santi Giménez and Henry Martín have looked lost and ignored as the lone forward in the 4-3-3 and the offense has suffered.

Something needs to change and pundits are now wondering of Lozano is the man to make those changes.

Player selection needs a rethink

TV commentators were (rightfully) critical of right back Jorge Sánchez virtually from the outset and the Porto man was error-prone throughout his 104 minutes on the pitch (Yes. Lozano did not make the move for promising Las Palmas defender Julián Araujo until late in the first overtime period). And Sánchez played the entire 90 minutes on Friday.

Hirving Lozano has not been in-form since being shuffled aside by Napoli and being sent back to PSV Eindhoven. His play of late has leaned toward selfish as he tries to prove his worth. But he is not the player he was 5-6 years ago and should not be viewed as a sure-fire starter.

The aforementioned Gallardo has been a cipher with El Tri for nearly two years now, yet he is a fixture at left back. Genk’s Gerardo Arteaga has not been given a fair shake (he was left off Tuesday’s roster after spending Friday on the bench) and youngsters such as Omar Campos have not even gotten a look.

Although Uriel Antuna has produced goals and assists for Mexico this year, his ineffectiveness is undeniable. His crosses are rarely on target, he too often fires blind centering passes, or worse, he over dribbles and loses the ball.

One glaring absence in Mexico roster is a quarterback in midfield. Defenders César Montes and Johan Vásquez are asked to send long diagonal passes to the opposite wing and this has opened up space at times, but the current crop of wingers have proven to be profligate.

The over reliance on attacking from wide leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the pitch so it is hard to tell if Mexico even has a player capable of directing the attack through the middle.

Next. USA, Panama in Concacaf Nations League semis. dark

Using a 4-4-2 could prove to be effective if Lozano identifies a conductor to insert at the top of the midfield diamond. Such a formation would also more directly involve the two forwards.