Cruelty adopts many different forms and emerges at various points along the spectrum during the perilous World Cup qualifying process. The rebuke handed to Mexico in the waning stages of its stunning 2-1 defeat to Honduras at Estadio Azteca on Friday night fell somewhere right in the middle of the scale.
El Tri listened as its supporters greeted every completed Honduran pass with "Ole, Ole" and offered an implicit rebuke of their fallen heroes in the process. Honduras -- the team without a goal or a point away from home in the Hexagonal before this trip to an increasingly hospitable venue -- deserved every last cheer after its fine second half performance. Mexico warranted yet another reproach after committing the entirely unforgivable sin of flattering to deceive once again.
The latest long con extended from the 4-1 victory over Côte d'Ivoire in August through the middle of the first half on Friday night. Mexico started brightly and scored early. It pressed high and won possession in the right places. It used the ball wisely when it obtained it and posed problems in the final third. Oribe Peralta polished off chances -- or gilt-edged opportunity to polish off Giovani dos Santos' square pass after six minutes, in this case -- presented to him. And the opposition looked utterly helpless to thwart the pervasive and ongoing concerns.
Honduran forward Carlo Costly terrorized Mexico's defensive unit in the second half (Images: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images).
Honduras certainly fell into that category until Mexico downshifted in the latter stages of the opening half. The bright opening period came too easily and lulled the home side into a false sense of security. The focus shifted from putting the visitors to the sword to stroking the ball around without posing any threat. The impetus seeped out of the game and permitted the Hondurans to devise a response to their rampant first-half concerns.
Veteran boss Luis Fernando Suárez inserted the formerly outcast Jerry Bengtson and ripped up his tactical plan entirely. Suarez shifted into a 4-4-2 setup with Bengtson and Carlo Costly reprising their fruitful partnership and told his players to streamline their approach play from back to front. It hardly constitute a turn toward Barcelona , but the direct and robust deportment delivered a pair of blows Mexico simply could not take.
Costly once again proved his worth at the international level by prompting both goals. His prototypical center forward work on the first included a clever turn and a powerful shot Jose de Jesús Corona parried all too invitingly into Bengtson's path for the equalizer. The second goal highlighted one of the primary weaknesses identified prior to the match -- Mexico's inability to cope with quick service over the top -- as Costly muscled through the callow Diego Reyes and tucked home the winner to complete the three-minute outburst.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernández -- omitted due to a lack of match practice and the performance of the same starting XI against Côte d'Ivoire -- quickly climbed off the bench to the rescue. Javier Aquino hit the bar with a header and Hernández forced Noel Valladares into a save from distance, but El Tri never mustered the expected onslaught or replies to subdue Honduras' revival.
The rather meek submission included those chances, the jeers from a crowd and a final whistle designed to manifest all of the greatest fears heading into this encounter. The defeat marked the second home loss in 78 World Cup qualifiers and the first complete setback in a campaign filled with missteps along the way. It somehow felt even worse than that statistic might suggest given the balance of play in the first half.
Beleaguered manager Jose Manuel de la Torre emerged for the press conference after quite some time, but he could produce no excuses or justifications for the defeat. His words matter little now with his fate -- either now or at some point in the near future -- essentially sealed. Not even his remarkable powers of survival will carry him through for any length of time in the wake of this defeat. He might somehow make it through to Columbus (though no one would quite understand how), but his tenure is doomed.
Fortunately for the players destined to survive him, the World Cup prospects do not fall into the same category. This defeat will make it more difficult, but Panama's inexplicable 0-0 home draw with 10-man Jamaica provided a silver lining to an otherwise awful evening. That result -- barring some rather ridiculous sequence of events over the final three rounds -- means El Tri will jockey for third or fourth place (and the corresponding and ultimately manageable trip to New Zealand to finish a two-game playoff) in the Hex rather than steel itself against the unfathomable drop into fifth by the time this 10-game march concludes.
Those modest reminders about the nature of the situation -- dire, but not hopeless -- provide a little context on a night when anger and pain dominate. The defeat showed Mexico remains a flawed side seemingly incapable of fulfilling its lofty expectations, performing well for 90 minutes or shouldering the burden created by its failures. The solutions must arrive in short order to ensure those persistent issues do not somehow lay the groundwork for the cruelest of fates by the time this qualifying campaign concludes.