Monday, May 10, 2010

Alberto Medina's goal gives El Tri victory over Senegal

Soccer superstar Alberto Medina has at least one souvenir from his trip to the United States. Medina scored four minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute Monday night, lifting Mexico to a 1-0 victory over Senegal and easing — for a few minutes, at least — concerns over El Tri's ability to finish. But the score should have been far more lopsided as Mexico squandered opportunities for at least four more goals, including shots by former Chicago Fire star Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez from within 5 yards.

Senegal, which failed to qualify for the first World Cup in Africa, had a few shots on goal but never really threatened. Drawn into Group A with host South Africa, France and Uruguay, Mexico is expected to get out of the first round. But its sloppiness in its first two games of its three-city U.S. tour is sure to concern coach Javier Aguirre.

Mexico looked a bit sharper than it did in Friday's sloppy 0-0 draw against Ecuador. But it still struggled to finish, squandering chances for at least three additional goals and looking out of sync defensively against a team that didn't qualify for next month's World Cup and seemed to have little interest in offense.

The addition of Medina and Blanco in the 56th minute immediately energized El Tri — and not just because of the loud cheers and whistles in honor of Blanco's homecoming. In the 60th minute, Andres Guardado, also a second-half substitute, sent a long pass upfield that was clearly going to outpace Medina. Senegal goalkeeper Khadim Ndiaye came out to collect the ball but bobbled it and Medina, who'd never slowed down, collected the rebound. With Ndiaye on the ground and no one else close to the goal, Medina buried his shot into the far corner of the net, setting off raucous cheers from the sellout crowd of 60,610.

Hernandez, set to join Manchester United next season, had a chance to double the score a few minutes later, but duffed a wide-open pass from less than 5 yards out. Blanco had a point-blank shot in the 89th minute, but it sailed right into Ndiaye's arms. But Mexico head coach Javier Aguirre had reason to be a bit unsatisfied with the performance. El Tri had a bunch of scoring opportunities, and Medina particularly had several other chances. The one-goal win did the trick, but Mexico clearly could have done more.

"We missed a few [opportunities] in the last third of the field," Aguirre said. "We need to look at connecting short passes. In the great leagues you only have one opportunity and you need to score it."

For two-thirds of the soccer  match, Senegal goalkeeper Khadim Ndiaye did his best to keep his squad in contention. He was efficient coming off of his line to intercept a bunch of threats and had some key saves to try to silence Mexico's attack. In the 60th minute, Ndiaye nearly replicated his previous efforts when he disrupted Andres Guardado's deep send for Medina. But in this instance the ball popped out a bit from his gloves, and Medina found the far left netting for the 1-0 Mexico lead.

Just a few minutes before that play, former Chicago Fire midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco made what nearly proved to be a picture-perfect entrance. Blanco did not get the start, but to the pleasure of the Mexican faithful in Soldier Field, he came off the bench for a shade more than half an hour. Blanco and Medina came into the match in the 56th minute for Adolfo Bautista and Pablo Barrera, respectively. Less than 1 minute later, Blanco provided a crisp send to Medina. But Ndiaye came up with the clutch save to keep Mexico off the scoreboard.

Little did Ndiaye know that Mexico would amp up its attack and tally the first strike a few minutes later. Mexico wholeheartedly attacked from their right side, clearly the weaker portion of the pitch from Senegal's standpoint. But Senegal managed to hold things close for a bulk of the match.

"The goal here was to challenge Mexico and help Mexico prepare for the World Cup, and I felt that the boys stood up to Mexico and gave them a good challenge," Senegal head coach Joseph Marie Koto said. "Overall, I'm satisfied with the game."

In the net, Ndiaye made seven saves. Mexico goalkeeper Oscar Perez, on the other hand, only had to make three saves. Mexico now plays Angola on Thursday in Houston before heading home to host Chile, a fellow World Cup qualifier, at Azteca Stadium. El Tri then goes to Europe for friendlies against England, the Netherlands and Italy before opening against host South Africa on June 11.

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