A diligent Mexico side all but demolished the lackluster French World Cup campaign with a well-deserved 2-0 win, brought on by a moment of admirable composure from Javier Hernandez and a massive blunder by Eric Abidal. Raymond Domenech’s men never really looked like running away with the game, despite their initial flamboyance, as the Mexicans counter-attacked and then wrested control of the game from under the French noses.
In a marked difference from their respective opening games, both France and Mexico started off their latest clash with uncharacteristic intensity. It showed in the way both sides wrested control of the game from each other over the course of the opening few minutes. With France enjoying the greater possession in the opening exchanges, the Mexicans despite their relative lack of big-game exposure did have more than the one good chance at getting themselves on the score sheet. Both France and Mexico, perhaps unsurprisingly, concentrated their firepower on their respective left flanks, with little imagination in the centre of the field from the European side. Govou was the culprit-in-chief at wasting opportunities, the chief example of which was a meek shouldering of the ball well within range of the Mexican goal.
As the pendulum swung the Mexicans’ way, the impressive fullback Salcido missed a half-decent opportunity to see his side go 1-0 up. A decoy free-kick courtesy dos Santos off an Evra foul failed to clear the French wall. At the other end, bereft of genuine scoring opportunities, the closest France came was when Toulalan whipped in a lovely cross that missed a leaping Florent Malouda by inches. As the Mexicans attacked in waves, William Gallas, in a glaring act of omission, permitted Salcido to take a unchallenged, clear shot on goal that had French custodian Hugo Lloris scrambling to make a save.
Just as the Mexicans looked like they were going to run away with the game, their star player Vela pulled up with a spasm under the watchful eyes of his club’s manager Arsene Wenger, currently on duty as a commentator for a French channel. If France were hoping his eventual substitution would lead to a reprieve they were mistaken, as his replacement Barrera proved more than adept at slotting right into the game. Barrera, who made his way onto the field in time for a badly taken French corner, was soon in the thick of things as his darting run into the box and a quick header drifted just over the bar with Lloris stranded as a hapless spectator.
In a sign of troubling times for Domenech, as his French side saw their attempts at attack wither out, the Mexicans initiated yet another strong counter-attacking move of their own. It took a desperate lunge from Toulalan to keep the men in green from making it count, and the Frenchman was promptly booked for his cynical albeit selfless act. As the two teams trudged off into the tunnel at half-time, it was Mexico that certainly looked the better side and the one more likely to score.
At the start of the second half, France quickly rung in the changes, with the ineffective Anelka being taken off for Gignac. The nerves began to show as Juarez shoved Malouda right in front of the referee, earning a yellow card in the process. After the Mexican attack came to nought, and the French countered with one of their own, Moreno put in a hard tackle of his own on Malouda. Once again, the referee struggling to keep on-field emotions from boiling over, had to show the Mexican a card. As the French looked to press on with greater urgency, Florent Malouda unleashed a vicious shot that Perez, the Mexican goal-keeper, did well to keep out.
That was soon followed by Franck Ribery testing the Mexican custodian at his near post, with a shot aimed low. Around the hour’s mark, there was precious little to write home about for either side – even the free-kicks were poor in quality, the sole positive being the vociferous Mexican support occasionally drowning out the relentless drone of the vuvuzelas. Soon after Javier Aguirre decided to throw the dice, in a blatant attempt at injecting some imagination into a comatose tie, by taking off Franco and bringing on Blanco. Mexico stunned soon France almost immediately, with a possibly offside Javier Hernandez breaking away to go one-on-one with Hugo Lloris and holding his nerve to send his side deservedly ahead.
Au Revoir, Domenech?
Raymond Domenech responded by taking off Govou and bringing on Valbuena instead, with Thierry Henry still on the bench. If Les Bleus were feeling miserable, their despair would only be compounded with Eric Abidal felling Barrera in the box. Mexican hero Blanco stepped up to take the penalty, and duly slotted it home past the outstretched arms of Hugo Lloris.
The Mexicans, not content with resting on their laurels, showed an appetite to increase their goal tally as a despondent French outfit looked to hold on and prevent further embarrassment. But by then the damage had already been done; in the clash of the tricolors, the side with the green stripe emerged victorious. The fact that the Mexican flag strongly resembles the Irish one, might be adding insult to injury for some, and poetic justice for others.
The Hard Tackle’s Player of the Match:
Javier Hernandez (Mexico)
In a game with no French player coming even remotely close to being considered for the laurels, the choice for ‘Player of the Match’ would have to go to the Mexican player who had the biggest impact on the game. Salcido was fabulous in both, defense and attack, for the Mexicans in the first half, while Barrera proved a more than adept replacement for the injured Vela – even bringing about the penalty that settled the result, effectively in favor of Aguirre’s men.
With all due credit to Blanco for scoring a penalty in classy fashion, to give Mexico their second goal, the best choice for player of the game would have to be Manchester United’s latest purchase Javier Hernandez. Coming on only just before the hour’s mark, Javier quickly settled into the role expected of him and kept his nerve to slot the first goal past an onrushing Lloris. From then on, France never stood a chance and Mexico just never looked back.
It’s amazing what that single goal of his stands for – Mexico were no longer the poor travelers, and no longer the side with a winless streak against the countries that make up the elite group of World Cup champions.
The Hard Tackle’s Referee Report Card:
Khalil Al Ghamdi (Saudi Arabia) – B
Barring a few unpleasant minutes, involving a visibly irritated Mexican side and Florent Malouda, Al Ghamdi did a satisfactory job maintaining discipline on the field. Without seeming vindictive, the referee penalized unacceptable behavior including the awarding an undeniable penalty claim to the Mexicans,. While he had little reason to get himself involved in the game, a more confident demeanor would have helped, perhaps.
FRANCE 0-2 MEXICO
Venue: Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane
Line-up: Hugo Lloris, Eric Abidal, William Gallas, Patrice Evra, Bacary Sagna, Abou Diaby, Jeremy Toulalan, Nicolas Anelka (Andre-Pierre Gignac 45′), Franck Ribéry, Florent Malouda, Sidney Govou (Mathieu Valbuena 69′)
Manager: Raymond Domenech
Caution: Toulalan, Abidal
Line-up: Óscar Pérez, Héctor Moreno, Francisco Rodríguez, Carlos Salcido, Ricardo Osorio, Rafael Márquez, Gerardo Torrado, Efraín Juárez (Javier Hernández 55′), Carlos Vela (Pablo Barrera 31′), Guillermo Franco (Cuauhtémoc Blanco 62′), Giovani Dos Santos
Manager: Javier Aguirre
Caution: Franco, Juarez, Moreno, Rodriguez
Scorers: Hernandez (64′), Blanco (79′)