Mexico 1-2 Portugal: El Tri drops to fourth place in the Confederations Cup

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Mexico 1-2 Portugal: El Tri drops to fourth place in the Confederations Cup

On Sunday, Mexico was just minutes away from a significant victory over the European champions. After initially taking a 1-0 lead over Portugal in the

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On Sunday, Mexico was just minutes away from a significant victory over the European champions. After initially taking a 1-0 lead over Portugal in the Confederations Cup third place match, El Tri was on the cusp of finishing the tournament on a positive note.

Following a disappointing 4-1 semifinal loss to Germany on Thursday, and immediate criticism from media and fans, Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio was in dire need of a good performance against Portugal.

Thanks to an incredible performance from Guillermo Ochoa in net during the third place match, it looked as if El Tri had a fighting chance to walk away with an unexpected victory. Cross after cross continued to fly into Mexico’s defensive area in the second half, but the opposition continued to waste countless chances in the final third.

Then, this happened…

Pepe equalized the scoreline, sending the match into extra time.

It was a heart-breaking moment for an El Tri side that looked physically and mentally exhausted. Although Mexico had a handful of dangerous moments during extra time, Portugal was able to sneak past El Tri through a penalty in the 104th minute.

Some may argue that Mexico was also owed a penalty that could have made it 2-2, but no call was given by the official who felt there was no need to utilize the video assistant referee (VAR) for a replay. Penalty or not, individual mistakes cost Mexico the game, not the lack of a late goal in extra time.

With a second loss in a row, Mexico limped to an uninspiring position at fourth place.

Looking back at El Tri’s run in the Confederations Cup, here are three talking points from the recent journey to Russia.

1. Defense was a constant issue throughout the competition

It’s tough to think of one member of the backline that regularly shined for Mexico in the tournament. There was the occasional good performance from players like Hector Moreno or Diego Reyes, but in general, the defense was the most consistently worrisome area of the starting XI for El Tri.

Injuries didn’t do much to help either.

Carlos Salcedo and Reyes were eventually ruled out the competition, leaving Osorio with the unenviable task of reorganizing his backline. The manager also seemed to shoot himself in the foot by starting central-minded defenders at right-back and left-back for Mexico.

That said, it’s far too simple to think that Osorio was the main reason for the two recent losses. Although the manager should get some blame for his atypical roster decisions, fingers should also be pointed at the underwhelming individual performances from Mexico’s defense.

2. Tournament goals were met, but El Tri was capable of more

It’s fascinating to think of the conversation we would be having if Miguel Layun was able to stop Pepe’s stoppage time equalizer in the 91st minute. If Pepe wasn’t able to connect with the ball, Osorio and his roster would have left Russia with El Tri’s best finish in the Confederations Cup since 1999.

That said, leaving the group stage was the minimum requirement, right? As Tom Marshall recently noted for ESPN FC, “Mexico went into this tournament as the fourth-best team and finished fourth.”

However, it’s still frustrating to think of what could have been achieved. And after holding Portugal scoreless for 90 minutes, a positive finish at third place was taken away during the very last minutes of regulation time.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda. Could Mexico have had a fighting chance against Germany if Osorio instead started Luis Reyes over Alanis at left-back? Would El Tri have beaten Portugal if Jesus “Tecatito” Corona was healthy? Could Mexico have earned first place in the group stage if there weren’t injured members of the backline?

Despite the fact that Osorio was able to accomplish the bare minimum, many will continue to wonder if subtle changes from the manager or the roster would have been enough for a spot in the top three.

3. Expectations of Osorio will now increase significantly in the Gold Cup

The Colombian will have very little time to lick his wounds. Exactly one week after the loss to Portugal, Mexico will take part in its opening match of the Gold Cup.

Granted, Osorio won’t have his “A” team available for the tournament, but his backup squad will still be expected to not only win the competition, but also impress. If not, increased criticism and frustration will only continue to grow from a fanbase that is skeptical of his methods.

El Tri’s Gold Cup journey will begin on July 9th with a match against El Salvador in San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium.

Mexico’s best player of the Confederations Cup — Jonathan dos Santos

From the handful of players that had a positive run in the tournament, Dos Santos was by far the most impressive.

The 27-year-old never ran out of his energy while he constantly chased, intercepted and fought for the ball in countless situations. His distribution supported the attack while his defensive abilities helped control possession.

Unlike many players in the roster, Dos Santos has recently excelled for club and country. With Villarreal, the Mexican was a key figure in the club’s noteworthy finish at 5th place in La Liga. The midfielder is regularly a step above his El Tri teammates, and looking forward, he is set to become a key figure in Mexico’s path to the 2018 World Cup.