What El Tri learned against Serbia
QUERETARO, Mexico -- With nearly 20 minutes remaining in the match against Serbia, Mexican manager Jose Manuel de la Torre clapped his hands furiously on the sideline and implored his team to pick up the pace. The game had turned into a snoozer. The fans had so disapproved of the turn of events that they began to whistle derisively even when the home team had the ball.
For the entire first half, Mexico had easily been the superior team. El Tri forwards zipped past Serbian defenders, who seemed to play a half step slower than their Mexican counterparts. Mexican ball handlers showed their deft skills by using nifty passes to move the ball upfield, which led to a quick 1-0 advantage in the first 10 minutes. The remainder of the half played out pretty much in the same way, with Mexico only narrowly missing out on extending its lead.
Then the second half started and the Serbians made halftime adjustments. Instead of trying to rush the ball upfield on counterattacks, Serbia attempted to keep possession and slowly move up the field for more deliberate scoring opportunities that almost tied up the game.
Also, the Serbians finally began to use their size to their advantage. Instead of chasing Mexico, Serbia went right after the smaller El Tri, at times muscling them to the ground, with the intent of closing down passing lanes.
Serbia's strategy worked so well that Mexico slowed the pace of the game to a crawl. With many passing lanes closed up, El Tri opted for a more direct attack. At times, the long passes resulted in some quick opportunities. But mostly, the passes either sailed way over the head of attackers, or players -- usually Chicharito -- were caught offsides.
Nobody felt the brunt of Serbia's halftime adjustments more than Chicharito, who was bettered to the ground several times, three times earning a yellow card for the defender who had knocked him down, including one against Chelsea foe Branislav Ivanovic that could have easily been called a penalty kick. (Side note: It's not likely that Ivanovic has forgotten the quick goal Chicharito scored in the final month of the season last year against Chelsea -- a furious rush in which he snuck past the central defense -- that, for the most part, handed Manchester United it 19th championship.)
Eventually, one of those direct passes against Serbia led to Chicharito getting body-tackled in the box for a penalty, the second penalty kick Chicharito had earned in two games. Against Brazil, he was knocked down in the box with a body tackle from Dani Alves, though Andres Guardado missed the ensuing kick. This time, Chicharito took the kick himself and scored easily to give Mexico a second goal that sealed Mexico's first win against a European opponent on home soil in 17 years. Immediately, Chicharito raced to the far right corner of the pitch and kissed the Mexican emblem on his shirt several times, while fans -- many of them young girls -- shrieked in admiration.