Costa Rica 1-1 Mexico: After gaining an away point, El Tri remains at the top of the Hex

Costa Rica 1-1 Mexico: After gaining an away point, El Tri remains at the top of the Hex

Less than a week after securing a spot in the World Cup, Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio could have easily gone for a conservative approach against Costa Rica. After leaving key players like Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela out of the starting XI, it looked as if the Colombian coach was about to follow through with a pragmatic and cautious style of play.

Instead, what followed on Tuesday night was an open and active clash between the two CONCACAF rivals.

After a bright start from Costa Rica in the first few minutes, Mexico responded with aggressive and high-pressing tactics as the match progressed. El Tri took chances with numerous shots, and were it not for Keylor Navas, Mexico could have easily found the back of net more than once.

Unfortunately for Los Ticos, there was little that Navas could do to halt an own-goal from Cristian Gamboa in the 42nd minute.

Knowing full well that a position in the World Cup had yet to be clinched, Costa Rica took control of the attacking momentum during the last 45 minutes. Although Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa provided a handful of big saves, the goalkeeper was left stunned after Marco Ureña’s powerul equalizer during the 82nd minute.

Despite the eventual draw, it was a pleasant surprise to see El Tri look dynamic and energetic in the attack. In a match where Osorio could have pushed for a reserved style, Mexico stepped up as if it was fighting for a much-needed victory.

Here are three talking points from Tuesday’s game.

1. Ochoa is Osorio’s #1 option in net

With two starts in a row for Mexico, it looks as if Ochoa has won over Osorio’s trust.

Keeping in mind that backup Jose de Jesus Corona has been shining for Cruz Azul this season, it was a bit odd to see Osorio leave the Liga MX option on the bench over the international break. In fact, Ochoa was only one of four players from El Tri who garnered a start in both of the recent matches.

It says plenty about Osorio’s goalkeeping preference, and with two brilliant performances in net, Ochoa is undoubtedly the #1 candidate for Mexico. Without more competition from another backup like Alfredo Talavera, who is currently injured, Ochoa’s starting position is his to lose.

2. Defensive midfield position is still up for grabs

Who is more to blame for Diego Reyes’ less-than-exciting evening? Is it Osorio for placing the central defender in a defensive midfield position? Is it Reyes for failing to take advantage of his starting spot in an atypical role?

Either way, one thing is for sure: Mexico has yet to find its best defensive midfielder. There’s a long list of intriguing options, but not one has been able to convincingly stand out amongst the rest.

However, one name that has the potential to thrive in that role is 19-year-old Edson Alvarez. Although Osorio loves to utilize him as a right-back, the manager should consider giving more minutes to the Club America player in the midfield. With a steady supply of well-timed tackles in every match, and an underappreciated ability to run with the ball, Alvarez might be perfect in the center of the field.

Looking forward, it will also be interesting to see if Osorio calls-up any other defensive midfielders in the upcoming roster for the October qualifiers.

3. Mexico is on course to finish at the top of the Hex

With a three point lead over second place, and only two games remaining in CONCACAF’s final round of World Cup qualifying, El Tri is nearing a guaranteed finish in first place. Costa Rica is the only team left in the Hex that is capable of surpassing Mexico, but considering Mexico’s easier remaining matches, it would be a slight shock to see El Tri drop to second place.

Four years after an embarrassing run in World Cup qualifying, Mexico fans should be thrilled to see the national team dominating the competition. If El Tri is able to finish on top, it would be the first time that Mexico earns that position in the Hex since 1998.

Mexico’s best against Costa Rica — Hirving Lozano

One week after scoring the game-winner for El Tri against Panama, Lozano’s stock has continued to rise in the Mexican soccer world.

On Tuesday, Lozano was a headache for Los Ticos’ defense. With an incessant amount of dribbling and crafty movement, the opposition was often left with no choice but to foul the winger. Given a bit more luck, Lozano should have finished the evening with at least one goal or assist.

The 22-year-old PSV Eindhoven player is a star in-the-making, and once next summer rolls around, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see him as an unquestioned member of El Tri’s starting XI.

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