El Tri ends year with woeful performance, but wins

Mexico's left back Cristian Calderon failed to impress against Bermuda on Tuesday. (Photo by VICTOR CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Mexico's left back Cristian Calderon failed to impress against Bermuda on Tuesday. (Photo by VICTOR CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images) /

Heavily-favored Mexico played a poor game but managed to sneak past a pesky Bermuda side with a late goal.

Uriel Antuna scored three minutes into added time to give an uninspired Mexico a shabby 2-1 win over Bermuda in a Concacaf Nations League match. El Tri – ranked No. 11 in the world – was expected to destroy the 168th-ranked island territory, but the national team closed out its 2019 season with a poor performance.

The victory gives coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino a 15-1-1 record in his first year on the job, but he will not be happy with Tuesday’s result. Even so, the result leaves El Tri with the top seeding in the inaugural Nations League tournament and Mexico will play Costa Rica in the semifinals in June. Honduras will face the United States in the other semifinal.

Martino opted for a youthful line-up after using his front-line players in Mexico’s 3-0 win over Panama in Friday’s group stage match. Unfortunately, the youngsters failed to impress, ruining a chance to secure the inside track on rosters slots ahead of next year’s World Cup qualifying round.

Instead, fans in Toluca watched a sullen effort from their heroes in which poor fundamentals, poor technique, poor tactical discipline and poor execution were the main takeaways from the game.

El Tri played a disinterested first half with midfielders Orbelin Pineda and Sebastián Córdova leading the turnover parade. Córdova covered up his sloppiness by scoring a gem of a goal, but there were few highlights for Mexico.

Antuna squandered an easy opportunity for an early lead when he badly mishit a header from point blank range. Then goalie Hugo González turned the ball over on a goal kick (the Necaxa keeper tried a short pass to central defender Luis Romo who wasn’t looking) and Héctor Moreno hustled over to erase the scoring chance, but conceded a corner kick in doing so. The defense failed to cover the tallest Bermuda player and Dante Leverock rose above the crowd to head home the cross as González overplayed the centering pass.

El Tri scrapes by
Luis Romo chases down Nahki Wells to break up a Bermuda counter-attack during their Concacaf Nations League match at Estadio Nemesio Diez in Toluca (Photo by VICTOR CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images) /

Bermuda then sprang a counterattack that looked dangerous as Mexico reacted slowly. Romo finally got back and broke up the possession, but El Tri looked out of sorts.

In minute 27, Córdova received a pass just outside the box, faked a shot with his right foot, then turned back left and curled a beauty into the netting inside the far post.

Mexico dominated possession through the first 45 minutes (78%) and fired 15 shots, but few were tough chances for Bermuda netminder Dale Eve.

In the second half, Bermuda created three scoring chances to Mexico’s two and the visitors nearly took the lead in minute 87 when Nahki Wells got clear on the left flank on a counter-attack.

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El Tri was sloppy with possession, offered very few dangerous crosses, and often tried to force passes when ball movement and spacing were called for. It seemed that players were looking for the perfect pass, holding the ball too long and that encouraged a lot of standing and watching. The lack of energy made it easier for Bermuda to hold their lanes and simply knock the ball clear. And when Mexico was slow to react to clearances, Bermuda hustled after the ball and forced El Tri’s defense to scramble far more than it should have.

Martino yanked out striker J.J. Macías, Pineda and Erick Aguirre and put on his preferred attacking trident – Rodolfo Pizarro, Roberto Alvarado and Raúl Jiménez – over the game’s final 20 minutes, but they didn’t change the dynamic on the pitch.

Finally, as the clock neared 90+3, Mexico strung together a few passes at the top of the box with Jiménez angling a pass to an unmarked Antuna at the back post. The L.A. Galaxy star chested the pass down and slotted home from 8 meters to save the team from embarrassment.