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Tuesday, October 11, 2011
MEXICO: Sanchez's farewell ends badly

By Scott French

Think of Tuesday's Mexico-Brazil friendly as a celebration of Oswaldo Sanchez's career, and as such it was a glowing success.

Oswaldo Sanchez
Mexico goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez had a rough ending to his farewell game for the national team.
The 38-year-old goalkeeper, making a farewell appearance before his home fans, made several superb saves as El Tri held on to an early advantage for nearly 70 minutes before stunning strikes by Ronaldinho and Marcelo gave Brazil a 2-1 win in Torreon.

Sanchez, Mexico's No. 1 netminder at the 2006 World Cup who hasn't figured much for the national team since Guillermo Ochoa's ascendancy a few years ago, was splendid in his 100th international appearance -- and basked in a glowing reception from fans of Santos Laguna, the club he captains, when subbed off in the final minutes.

The loss was the first with Mexico for technical director Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, not that that means a whole lot. The game was virtually meaningless, and its timing -- with nothing important nearby; World Cup qualifying doesn't begin until June -- and both clubs' reliance on Europe-based talent softened the intensity.

The highlights were three spectacular goals, including the own goal that gave Mexico a 10th-minute lead. Right-winger Pablo Barrera, one of Mexico's special players, wrapped an attack along the byline with a telling ball from a tight angle. David Luiz stuck out his foot, the ball glanced off it, spinning behind goalkeeper Jefferson and finding the far-post netting.

Ronaldinho's 79th-minute free kick, awarded after Neymar's “performance” convinced Salvadoran referee Marlon Mejia, was a bullet to the upper-right corner. Marcelo beat two defenders in the box before firing the winner into the goal's ceiling in the 84th.

Nothing Sanchez could do about either. His night will be remembered more for two saves on Ronaldinho, both on free kicks.

Three things we saw in Brazil's victory over Mexico:

1. IT'S NOT JUST THE STARS

No question who the big boys were. Nobody was more influential (primarily from set pieces) than Ronaldinho, the biggest name in this game. Univision's coverage featured individual cams on Neymar, the Brazilian teen the world is swooning over, and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.

Best man on the field, and a name to remember, is Hulk, the hulking 25-year-old winger making just his sixth appearance with the Canarinha.

Hulk, who plays for Porto in Portugal, was at the heart of everything Brazil tried in the first half.

2. CHEPO'S MANEUVERS

The next big thing on the calendar is the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, and Mexico's campaign (like that of the U.S. and the other powers in the region) begins with the CONCACAF semifinal round in June.

Of course, El Tri will qualify -- failure would be an incomprehensible disaster -- and their young attacking talent could make them, for the first time, true contenders. The areas of concern are near the back.

De la Torre has uncommon-for-Mexico depth at goalkeeper, a veteran presence on the backline and solid holding midfielders to support the big four up front -- Hernandez and fellow forward Giovani Dos Santos, Barrera and fellow winger Andres Guardado -- but veteran depth might not be enough.

Only a few Mexicans have been stars in Europe -- Hugo Sanchez and Rafa Marquez the biggest -- but more players have been making the move the past few years, including several defenders. That could make a difference, as long as they're getting playing time. And not all of them are.

Midfield anchor Gerardo Torrado, 32, pulled out of this game after an injury Saturday with Cruz Azul, and how de la Torre dealt with it was interesting. Rather than team Maza Rodriguez with Hector Moreno and station Marquez in midfield -- perhaps his best position on the field -- Mexico's boss paired Marquez with Rodriguez and moved left back Carlos Salcido into Torrado's spot. Moreno came off the bench in the second half.

Salcido was OK. Marquez was outstanding in the back.

3. MISTAKES KILL

There's no reason Mexico should lose a game in which only a missed penalty kick (by Guardado in the 45th minute, nice save by Jefferson) denies it a 2-0 lead and it enjoys a man advantage for an entire half (after Dani Alves' second yellow card, in the 44th minute).

But the Brazilians' class was more apparent as the game went on, and the late goals weren't a surprise. Fortunately for El Tri, it didn't mean a thing.