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Mexico defeated, but did they expect too much?

On Sunday evening my favourite side at this edition of the World Cup were eliminated. Mexico had shown in pre-tournament friendlies against England and Italy that they were a young side full of players who were all very comfortable on the ball. Javier Aguirre took over from Sven Goran Eriksson last April after the swede’s terribly inconsistent run of form left the Mexican FA in a tiff over their qualification to the tournament. Incidentally, this was the second time that Aguirre had been rushed in to rescue a faltering qualification campaign. He was also installed in 2001 to try and steer them toward the finals in Japan and South Korea.

Italy's W-W used in the 1930s

Italy's W-W (2-3-2-3)

Mexico set out their stall to play a very fluid style of football, there would be no thought of shutting down games after getting a goal or two. This was evident given their ability to keep a clean sheet in only 1 of their last 8 fixtures, their second group game win against France. The most interesting feature of Mexico’s play was that they were setup in a formation which was similar to the W-W used by Vittorio Pozzo’s Italy, winners in 1934 and 1938.

Pozzo in the 1930s felt that he didn’t have the adequate players to play the standard 2-3-5, Pozzo lacked a centre half who had the physical and technical abilities to get around the pitch. He modified the formation by pulling back the inside-forwards and at played Ricardo Monti, one of the many Oriundi in Italy’s history. Jonathan Wilson in ‘Inverting the Pyramid’ says of Monti:

[Pozzo] used him as a centro mediano, a halfway house. He would drop when the other team had possesssion and mark the opposing centre forward, but would advance and become an attacking fulcrum when his side had the ball

Italy’s wing-halves had support from the retreated centre forwards, making the W-W.

The similarity with Mexico’s shape in 2010 is quite uncanny but the styles differ dramatically, Italy were a brutally pragmatic side noted for their inability to play the ball well on the floor. Mexico have played some of the most attractive at this World Cup able to keep the ball well and pass and move with terrifying speed and accuracy.

In the modern game full backs have become some of the most important players on the field, they are usually the players who have the most space to operate in. Their full backs were outstanding throughout the competition, flying up and down the flanks and offering options to pass and cross as well as shoot on goal themselves. Salcido’s efforts against Argentina epitomised this hunger to get forward and produce.

Mexico 2-3-2-3 / 3-4-3

Mexico's formation looks quite similar to the W-W

The two advanced midfielders, Torrado and one of Juarez or Guardado, acted is Carilleros (shuttlers) moving up and down the pitch as a unit to provide options inside for the advancing wing backs, playing balls through to the strikers and putting lots of pressure on the opposition’s midfielders as soon as they had the ball.

Barcelona centre back, Rafael Marquez undertook a very important role in the side as a sweeper sitting in front of the defence. This type of sweeper is becoming more prevalent in the modern game, it gives ample cover against 2 man attacks, playmakers between the lines as well as indirectly making the side much more attacking at the other end of the field. Marquez has been one of the few sweepers at this World Cup, is he the blueprint for the next few seasons of football tactics? His assist for the Javier Hernandez goal against France summed up his ability to influence the attack despite lying exceptionally deep.


Mexico’s exit was marred by Argentina’s first goal which was offside, it was a terrible decision but the misery was componded by hitting the self destruct button. Javier Aguirre stepped down a few days after their elimination, he was expected to go further in this competition. He initially promised a quarter final berth so many will say that to step down is the respectable thing to do.

But Mexico have performed to their level at this World Cup, they have been eliminated at the 2nd round consistently for 5 World Cups in successions and they are currently ranked 17th in the world according to FIFA. I have to ask the question why do so many countries think they deserve better in these tournaments? It is simple mathematical fact, only 8 countries can make the quarter finals. Obviously I don’t want to stunt any kind of fan ambition, some is always healthy, but I really thought the Mexican FA would give Aguirre to really have a go at a competition such as the 2011 Copa America.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Mexico to see if they maintain this wonderful style of play…

  • Kevin

    Good post, Rocco.

    As you know yourself, I'm currently in the middle of Wilson's book so haven't educated myself on this formation yet, but your observation is clever and accurate.

    I love Mexico, particularly Salcido at left back, his performances were outstanding. Hopefully in four years they can go one better, it's still a young squad, maybe the likes of Hernandez, Dos Santos and co will come of age.

  • Rocco

    It was a shame that they were so poor in front of goal. They should've destroyed England at Wembley.

    I got far too excited about Salcido, often having to calm myself down for fear of disturbing entire pubs! Shame he's 30 now, that might be it for him in the World Cup.

  • tiag0

    If all goes well you Brits will be seing quite a bit more of Javier Hernández, and hopefully a stint in the Premier League will do him good. We do expect a lot of him, and as of right now has a ton of support here in Mx.

    As for “el tri” well, the sad thing about Mexican sport in general is that there is too much politics, burocracy and other interests surrounding it. The 2 main media/tv corporations have far too many interests and influence, and that only means that the choices made reflect what's best for the bottom line, and not what's best for the progress of Mexican sport. It's the same with our Olympic hopefulls…

    Anyways, good blog, keep up the good work!

  • Defensive Minded

    Mexico remind me of Chile in that they lack a certain ruthlessness. It doesn't matter how good their build up play is if they can't convert chances.

  • Kevin

    Indeed, I was shocked because I hadn't noticed him before.

  • Rocco

    Turns out, he's retired from the National team as of their defeat to Argentina. So, will have to watch some Eredivisie if you want to see him play now.

  • Babak Golriz

    Great piece. Reading it now when looking back, after having an eye out for the role Marquez plays makes it all the more interesting.

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