Mexico-Gambia: El Tri splashes its way to 5-1 victory
Mexican Coach Javier Aguirre said he wanted to test his team in every condition possible before its World Cup opener next week. And after Sunday's 5-1 win over Gambia in the wet but welcoming Bavarian town of Bayreuth, he could cross both "sloppy" and "treacherous" off that list.
With Javier Hernández getting a pair of goals, one in each half, and Adolfo Bautista adding a pair of second-half scores, Mexico dominated a one-sided match that started following a downpour and ended in the gloaming in a stadium without lights.
After an afternoon of rain, the field at tiny Hans Walter Wild Stadium, was a mess, spotted with mud and puddles. As a result, players from team both spent almost as much time on their backsides as their did on their feet. And when the rains returned with a vengeance late in the first half and again after halftime, the bad conditions got worse.
Gambia, however, was much more welcoming than the weather for the Mexicans. A late replacement for Cup-qualifier Portugal -- negotiations for that match broke down last month over Portugal's insistence that Mexico trade training bases in South Africa -- the Gambians were asked to give El Tri a much-needed crash course in African-style soccer. Mexico, after all, opens the World Cup next week against South Africa.
And although the Gambians were loose, creative and physical, if not particularly disciplined, they weren't very good with the Mexicans, as they were able to slant through the Gambian defense with ease.
Part of the thinking behind Mexico's four-game European tour was to steel its players not only for the challenge of playing against teams with differing styles, but also for the difficulty of performing before hostile crowds and under difficult field conditions. Yet with the exception of last week's game in London's Wembley Stadium, Mexico has been received warmly on the continent.
In Bayreuth, for example, Mexico was greeted by a loud and enthusiastic flag-waving crowd of more than 5,000, many wearing green and black Mexican jerseys or wearing sombreros. A German mariachi band (really) played the team onto the field for its pregame warm-ups and performed at halftime while PA announcements were made more often in Spanish than in German.
With Mexico needing to trim its roster by one player before Tuesday's World Cup deadline, Coach Aguirre kept his promise and started the little-used Bautista as well as midfielder Jonathan dos Santos, both of whose spots on the team were tenuous coming in. And despite the difficult conditions, Bautista played well, joining a Mexican attack that harassed Gambian keeper Touray Padembo throughout the soggy afternoon, eventuallly picking up two goals for his trouble.
His first scoring play started with Cuauhtémoc Blanco chipping a pretty pass to Alberto Medina, who sent the ball on to Bautista well beyond the Gambian defense. From there, it was just a matter of staying upright and striking the ball cleanly, both of which he did.
Bautista added another goal 10 minutes later, about five minutes before Medina closed out the route with Mexico's fifth score.
Hernandez, meanwhile, quickly returning to the form that won him an April invitation to play for England's Manchester United, gave Mexico a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute, beating Padembo cleanly with a right-footed blast from just inside the box. And then early in the second half "Chicarito" finished off a multi-player rush with a sliding score to double the Mexican lead. It didn't stay 2-0 long, however, with Hernandez's goal starting a downpour of Mexican goals -- four times in just more than 20 minutes.
Gambia, meanwhile, rarely penetrated the Mexican defense before Ebrima Sohna ended the bid for a shutout in the 65th minute .
-- Kevin Baxter, reporting from Bayreuth, Germany