Brazil were the entertainers during the past week of international friendlies, but on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium it was all about Mexico.
It’s been all about Mexico at several levels of the world game the past 14 months as El Tri have racked up title after title. The run began in April of last year when Ulises Dávila scored twice in the final of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship to secure a continental crown, and at the FIFA U-20 World Cup four months later Mexico progressed all the way to the semifinals before being beaten by eventual champions Brazil.
Dávila, who became the first Mexican to sign for Chelsea when he joined the Blues last summer, helped ensure his side would at least come away with a medal when he scored against France in the third-place game, and he was also part of the U-22 side that put in a series of impressive performances against Uruguay, Peru and Chile at last year’s Copa America.
Mexico, of course, are also CONCACAF champions at the senior level, having annihilated their regional rivals at last June’s Gold Cup. Pablo Barrera and Andres Guardado combined to score three times against the United States in the final at the Rose Bowl and both players were exceptional against Brazil on Sunday.
Barrera, 24, spent most of last season on loan to Real Zaragoza from West Ham while Guardado, 25, recently joined Valencia after five seasons at Deportivo La Coruna. Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez, who was named Most Valuable Player of the 2011 Gold Cup, scored the second Mexico goal against Brazil; Giovanni dos Santos, still on the books at Tottenham Hotspur, scored the first with a delightfully chipped effort that may have been intended as a cross.
Despite his struggles at club level, dos Santos continues to play a vital role for the national team and has now tallied 13 times for his country. He has scored exactly the same amount of goals the past three seasons combined while at Spurs, Ipswich, Galatasaray and Racing Santander.
These players, along with goalkeeper José Corona, right-back Severo Meza (who absolutely dominated Neymar on Sunday), defender Héctor Moreno, midfielder Ángel Reyna and forward Aldo de Nigris should combine to make Mexico a legitimate World Cup contender in two years’ time. Solid at the back, strong on the wings and lethal in attack, they have lost just two senior internationals since the 2010 World Cup. They might also be the best counter-attacking side in international football.
And the future is only getting brighter. On Friday Mexico beat Turkey to win the 2012 Toulon Tournament—an annual under-age competition that previously helped launch the careers of Alan Shearer, Rui Costa, Juan Roman Riquelme and Thierry Henry. Pachuca midfielder Héctor Herrera won the Golden Ball at this year’s instalment, and Guadalajara playmaker Marco Fabián led all players with seven goals. Both players will be at the London Olympics just over two months from now, and Mexico will be one of the favourites to win the Gold Medal.
Mexico are also world champions at the U-17 level—a title they claimed last July after beating France, Germany and Uruguay in successive knockout matches. They previously won the U-17 in 2005, and a trio of stars from that tournament—Dos Santos, Moreno and Edgar Andrade—contributed to the 2-0 win against Brazil on Sunday.
A word about Brazil
Brazil controlled much of the play against Mexico at Cowboys Stadium but could simply not find an opening through Meza, Moreno, Jorge Torres and Francisco Rodriguez. That said, the past week’s wins over Denmark and the United States revealed a lot of positives, and manager Mano Menezes should feel good about his side’s chances ahead of the London Olympics.
The side Menezes put out against Mexico averaged under 22-years in age, and robust performances from Sandro and Rômulo in the centre of the park, powerful attacking displays by Hulk and the silky-smooth skills of Neymar and Oscar have the national team looking more competitive than it has at any time since Menezes’ appointment in 2010.
The manager, it should be said, stumbled upon this current team quite by accident.
In a late-February friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Menezes started Ronaldinho and brought Elias off the bench just prior to the hour-mark. Neither player should be anywhere near the senior Brazil squad, and the same can probably be said for Robinho, Maicon, Jadson, Michel Bastos, Lucio and Julio Cesar.
That said, it took Menezes more than a year-and-a-half to completely dispense with the old guard, and he only did it because preparations for the U-23 Olympic tournament required it.
What’s become obvious over the past week is that this current U-23 side—augmented by the likes of Thiago Silva, Hulk and at some point David Luiz—is easily the best Brazil side of the Menezes era and will likely look a lot like the team that opens up the 2014 World Cup in Sao Paulo.
Menezes didn’t intend for it to work like this, but it has happened nonetheless. Sometimes the best ideas are little more than an accident.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer