DENVER – One victory will not absolve Mexico from scrutiny after the missteps of the past few months, but its cathartic effect could prove critical as El Tri prepares to continue onward in its quest to retain the Gold Cup .
Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre said the curative impact of the 2-0 victory over Canada matters a great deal as his side turns its attentions to the critical Group A finale against Martinique (live, FOX Soccer, 6 p.m. ET)
"It's always important to win in all aspects," de la Torre said after the triumph. "You move up in the table, especially when you're aspiring to qualify. Your confidence keeps improving. Even though the team is working hard, it is always important to see that manifested into results. We keep adding and we keep growing, step by step, with a lot of patience and a lot of poise."
At some point, those improvements must also translate to the field. Mexico cobbled together a better performance against a dogged opponent on Thursday night, but it still needed a set piece goal and a suspect penalty award to collect maximum points. The frequency of neat and tidy play in the final third increased without producing the sort of devastating results expected.
In the aftermath of a poor display against Panama to open group play, those modest strides represented a necessary step forward. The ample time in possession, the earnest work of Marco Fabián and Luis Montes in the wide areas and the intricate sequences between Fabián and Rafael Márquez Lugo provide some encouragement that the improvement will continue against a Martinique side with significant questions still to answer inside its own half.
"The team improved on many fronts and it operated (well)," de la Torre said in his native Spanish. "The opponent was putting a lot of pressure in many different spaces on the pitch, but the team managed to get a good result and convert opportunities into goals. That creates more confidence and less pressure."
Even with a place in the quarterfinals looking more likely by the day, this particular situation remains more complicated than anticipated. Panama - by virtue of its opening day victory over El Tri - will top Group A with a triumph over Canada in the opening match of the doubleheader. Those circumstances create a scenario where Mexico requires at least a draw to clinch second place in the group and sidestep the potential headaches of claiming one of the two berths available to third-place finishers.
Martinique enters this match with ample hope of booking a place in the knockout round, particularly with the poor goal differential of the two potential third-place finishers out of Group C. The overseas French department must cope without the services of Jacky Berdix (suspended) and Frederic Piquionne (returned to Portland) for this match, but it can lean on the confidence generated by the first two displays and try to pin the Mexicans back on the break in a bid to secure a result.
The threat posed by a motivated side isn't lost on Mexico, though. This is exactly the sort of game - albeit with a bit more space provided in midfield - that can cause more issues than anticipated in light of the recent wobbles.
"I think Martinique - with all due respect to Panama and Canada - is going to be worse than these ones," Márquez Lugo said. "They are also playing for the final round in this game. They have to beat us to advance to the final round. I think it's going to be very tough, but if we play the way we did (against Canada), then we'll have a lot of chances."
De la Torre will check on the fitness of Jorge Enríquez before he names his starting XI and insist upon further growth from the victory over Canada. El Tri cannot afford to regress with the prospect of a more difficult route through the knockout stages now looming.
"We have to win," Mexico defender Miguel Layún said. "If we don't win, it's going to be a really hard position. We want to go on in this tournament. If we don't continue the things we have been working on throughout the team, it doesn't matter how hard you try and how you found the way out of this bad moment. We know that it's a really important game."