Oribe Peralta's goal gave Mexico all three points on paper, but there was so much more to this rainswept contest. Dominic Neo came up with 10 observations from the midnight kickoff.
The right team won
Mexico fully deserved their victory. They dictated the tempo of the game, attacked with pace and defended stoutly. They had 62% of the possession and completed 419 passes – almost doubling Cameroon’s woeful 234 completed passes. It is hard to imagine that Mexico barely scraped into this tournament. They were technically and tactically sound. If not for a few dubious refereeing decisions, they would have won far more comfortably.
The effervescent but luckless Dos Santos
Giovani Dos Santos can feel very aggrieved to have not gotten on the score sheet. He was very unfortunate to have two goals wrongly disallowed by the referee for offside but his general play was excellent. He was sprightly and strong, causing N’Koulou and Chedjou all sorts of problems with his movement. Dos Santos inspired the winner: he combined well with Herrera to run at the heart of Cameroon’s defence, forcing Itandje to parry the ball into the path of the onrushing Peralta, who made no mistake from ten yards out. One wonders why he did not fare better at Spurs.
Bombing full backs
And this swift Mexican side did not just shift the ball across their back-five, waiting for Cameroon to make a mistake. They were eager to get the ball forward and wide quickly. Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún, the Mexican wing-backs, bombed up and down the flanks tirelessly, stretching the Cameroonian defence thin. That Mexico had more passes completed in the final third of the pitch than Cameroon (117 vs. 93) in spite of having less nominal forwards, is a credit to the industrious Mexican wingbacks.
Hunger and tackling
And Mexico’s tenacious tackling underlined their desire too. They completed 19/28 tackles whilst Cameroon – ironically nicknamed the Indomitable Lions – were meek in comparison, competing only 12/16 tackles. The Cameroonian team may have had the size advantage but it was clear that the Mexicans wanted the game more. It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
Indeed, Cameroon were lackluster and tepid. They moved the ball without any purpose or pace, content with playing it safe. The midfield triumvirate of Song, Enoh and Mbia did not provide Eto’o with any support, whilst Choupo-Moting and Moukandjo were occupied with containing the swashbuckling Mexican wing-backs. Eto’o thus cut a peripheral figure, easily marshaled by his ex-Barcelona team mate, Rafael Márquez.
Still doing it
Speaking of Márquez, he became the first player to captain his country in four World Cup tournaments. A stunning achievement for a classy player.
Cameroon, too, broke a record: they have now lost five World Cup games in a row, the longest ever losing streak by an African nation. And judging from their utterly insipid display, Croatia and Brazil will be sure to extend that record for Cameroon.
How much of a toll did that fiasco over player bonuses with the Cameroonian Football Association take? It was like they never left – there were only listless yellow shadows drifting across the pitch. It was telling that there were four Cameroonian players merely standing at the edge of the box during extra time, waiting for the ball to be punted in, rather than dropping closer to the passer and demanding for the ball. There was absolutely no sense of urgency. It would be rather shameful if their sub-par showing were due to monetary issues. I am no professional footballer and the details of their strike are not clear. But I know that this is a World Cup held in Brazil, the spiritual home of football, if you will. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that many would do silly things for. Put a little heart into it, Cameroon.
More refereeing blunders
And it seems like the referee and linesmen need to up their game too. Apart from spraying that delightful white paint to demarcate the distance between the free kick and the wall, they have not got much of the big decisions right in all the matches so far. The game would have been very different had Eto’o converted that glorious chance in the first-half, after Dos Santos had got two legitimate goals chalked off. Goals change games and the referees have to get these decisions right.
All to play for
Group A still looks straightforward after the first round of matches. Brazil will probably take top spot, with Mexico and Croatia fighting for second place. However, as Croatia have shown, Brazil do have weaknesses, especially on their flanks, with Marcelo and Alves leaving worrying gaps at the back. And, what do you know, these Mexicans are pretty decent on the wings. At the time of writing, Holland just annihilated Spain 5-1. Absolutely anything is possible.
A delusional, self-absorbed man-child still waiting for the call to take over Steven Gerrard’s No. 8 jersey, you can find Dominic skewing volleys over school gates with his mates by day and living the real life on Football Manager by night.