EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Worried Mexico fans can breathe again. The wait is finally over. The long desired signs of life have arrived just in time for the critical World Cup qualifier against Honduras on Sept. 6.
El Tri summoned its considerable quality and swept aside a disappointing Cote d'Ivoire in the first half on its way to a 4-1 victory at MetLife Stadium on Wednesday night. The dominant spell did not erase the horrors and the setbacks of the past few months, but it did provide some hope that the painful days may come to a merciful end at Estadio Azteca next month.
The result mattered far, far less than the performance on this night with morale in question and rhythm altogether absent for most of the past few performances. Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre took a few risks with his squad selection - and he even named Christian Gimenez in his starting lineup - but he received the best display of the year to date in reward for his faith.
"Of course, this was a great game and a positive result," de la Torre said in his native Spanish after the game. "It helps with the confidence. It was a team effort. It was a result of the teamwork we saw over the past few days. With some changes, I thought they did well and presented themselves well."
For far too much of this year, Mexico lacked the intricate, incisive combination work typical of its usual displays. It fell into ruts in possession and permitted the opposition to set out its stall. Those concerns dissipated on this night with the returning Oribe Peralta leading the line superbly and in-form duo Giovani dos Santos and Ángel Reyna buzzing around him to offer the necessary support in the modified 4-3-3 setup.
The attacking trident ripped a disinterested and disorganized Ivorian side apart in the opening half with the ample aid of high pressure tactics from the opening whistle. Mexico pursued the match ardently and received the corresponding rewards with a pair of goals inside the first half-hour.
Both of those efforts owed much to Cote d'Ivoire's evident uneasiness on the ball when confronted by an opponent willing to close them down inside their own half. Reyna and Peralta combined to place the ball in a threatening position after 10 minutes, but Arthur Boka polished off the move with a tidy finish into his own net under a considerable amount of duress. Peralta grabbed the goal his earnest toil deserved after 28 minutes by latching onto Jean-Jaques Gosso's atrocious backpass under pressure and thumping it past the stranded Boubacar Barry.
Those two goals offered the perfect preamble to the rampant counterattack deployed to secure the third. Gerardo Torrado won the ball at midfield to start the move. Reyna collected and then played dos Santos through on the overlap. Dos Santos surged into the right side of the penalty area and swung a delicate cross for Peralta to nod home at the near post on the stroke of halftime.
Cote d'Ivoire boss Sabri Lamouchi inserted Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou at the interval to spark his side to life. It yielded some dividends on the hour mark after Drogba dispatched a harshly awarded penalty for perceived handling by Torrado, but the Ivorians never really looked like turning the result around with Diego Reyes leading El Tri's relatively assured rearguard actions on the evening.
Reyna confirmed his side's dominance on the night and provided the perfect cap to the evening by grabbing the fourth moments before the final whistle. His deft touch prompted a tidy finish inside the far post to increase the margin of victory and underscore the progress made on this night.
A triumph over a poor Cote d'Ivoire outfit - squad depth presents a genuine concern for Lamouchi, it appears - will not advance the overall objectives, but it does supply a timely injection of belief ahead of the critical date against Honduras. De la Torre and his players have proven their ability to thrive once more. Now they must harness it in order to ensure the decisive September period proceeds according to plan.
"It helps us as we prepare for the next few games, especially the World Cup qualifiers, which is our goal," de la Torre said. "It's all about focusing now on the next game, given what we saw today. This game was very much an opportunity for the players to show what they can give to the national team."
De la Torre and his players have proven their ability to thrive once more with this resounding victory. Now they must harness it in order to ensure the decisive September period proceeds according to plan.