Saturday, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the Mexican National Football Team defeated their Ecuadorian opposites 3-1 in a World Cup tune up friendly that was not such. Both teams took the match very seriously, more as a dress rehearsal rather than a chance to tinker with rosters or tactics despite the absence of a few key Ecuadorian players.
This intensity meant that the majority of the first half was spent in a back and forth that had Mexico with the slight advantage in possession but with neither team creating many scoring chances through the first half hour.
Then, Mexican midfielder Luis Montes took advantage of a great back-heel pass set up, and from about 25 yards out, boomed a left footed shot that beat the Ecuadorean keeper to the far left of the goal. The celebration was short lived though as a few minutes later, Montes crashed with inexplicable violence with an Ecuadorean defender and fractured his tibia, ensuring he will miss the World Cup.
Sadly, in the Italy vs. Northern Ireland friendly in London, Italy’s star midfielder Riccardo Montolivo was experiencing the same injury with the same expected fate. For Italy, especially, the loss is substantial and will require a recalibration of the team’s midfield less than two weeks away from the opening game in Brazil.
In Texas, the Mexicans, clearly shocked by their teammate’s injury, played out of sorts but with that communal purpose born of a shared misfortune. By about the 69th minute the adrenaline flowing via a need to avenge their known loss fueled a resurgence that culminated in a great mid-range goal by midfielder Marco Fabian who hit a bouncing ball over the Ecuadorean keeper for a 2-0 lead.
Ecuador pushed hard for a score and seemed to have done so before the ref called the goal back saying an Ecuador player on the ground had touched the ball with his hands. Replays showed the ball bouncing up and into the player’s hand while the player was actually trying to move his arm out of the ball’s way.
Within seven minutes of Fabian’s score, two after the disallowed goal, the game was turned on its head as Spanish Football’s La Liga and Villarreal star, Giovanni dos Santos, scored at the 76th minute mark to put the game out of reach at 3-0.
But the Ecuadoreans’ pride did not allow them to go scoreless and at the 80th Valencia scored off a close-in free kick that was deflected in front of goal, evading the goalkeeper’s dive and finding the net for the final score.
It is hard to say what either team can take home from this match. Certainly Mexico looked the better side when Ecuador had been the better performer for the past 18 months. Unfortunately, the Mexicans will have to figure out how to make up their roster loss at a late time for such changes before the World Cup. Finally, though the team looked good before Montes’ injury the rest of the game was played on an unreal pace fueled by adrenaline and thus it will be hard for Mexican coach, Miguel Herrera, to know what was a product of good play, and what a product of emotional exuberance.
For Ecuador this was a forgettable performance that was marred by the unfortunate injury. Their coach, Reinaldo Rueda, cannot be too tough on his players for not performing to their level since they never gave up, and with starters missing, we could be seeing a very different side come the next tune up let alone their first cup match in Brazil.