PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago -- Three thoughts from Mexico's 1-0 win against Trinidad and Tobago, which sees El Tri maintain its position at the top of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table.
1. Just about job done for Mexico
This was not pretty from Mexico. For much of the match, Trinidad and Tobago was the better side. But it was a case of getting the job done for El Tri, and that's exactly what it did in a humid climate and on a soft pitch.
A headed goal from Diego Reyes handed Mexico a 1-0 win. Juan Carlos Osorio's team has now earned 10 points from four matches in the Hexagonal stage of World Cup qualifying, and with three of the four games so far played on the road, every indication suggests Mexico is strolling to Russia 2018 and banishing the demons of the previous qualifying campaign.
But this wasn't clinical or easy. Trinidad and Tobago had a perfectly good goal disallowed just after the 30-minute mark, when Joevin Jones was fed through and smashed the ball into the roof of Alfredo Talavera's net. Kenwyne Jones was a constant handful, testing Mexico full-backs Carlos Salcedo and Luis Reyes with teammate Cordell Cato.
Osorio was a ball of pent-up energy on the sideline in the first half and clearly wasn't happy with how things were going against an organized and surprisingly slick Trinidad and Tobago. To his credit, though, things improved for Mexico in the second half, as a Trinidad and Tobago team made up of six players who are not getting regular minutes with their clubs seemed to feel the pace more than the visitors.
In the end, it was another set piece that got the job done for El Tri. Against the United States, Costa Rica and now Trinidad, Mexico scored from a set-piece play -- traditionally considered one of the national team's weaknesses -- as Reyes rose to head home.
The real positive from the Mexico camp is that this seems to be a much more together, grittier and mentally tough group of players. Was Osorio showing Trinidad and Tobago too much respect? The evidence for large parts of the first half suggested that the answer was yes, but the manager had the last laugh as Reyes headed home the winner.
2. Reyes, Molina combo invites pressure
The DNA of Mexican players is possession-based football. Osorio had his reasons for playing Reyes and Jesus Molina as holding midfielders in the first half, the most obvious of which was to maximize the physical side of El Tri's game, provide a solid base for Mexico's attacks and crowd out the threat of balls up to Trinidad and Tobago's lone striker, Jones.
But the experiment did not really work. Mexico had an exceptionally good few minutes of possession midway through the first half, when Raul Jimenez sent in a cross that was ever so close to Javier Hernandez's head in the 19th minute. Then, there was a period in which El Tri looked like a team full of quality, as it recycled the ball from left to right and back again, eventually creating space for Hector Herrera to have a shot from the edge of the area.
But that was not enough. Mexico was making mistakes playing out from the back throughout the first half. Reyes tended to hide from the ball rather than demand it. The elephant in the room (or on the field), was Rafael Marquez. The injured Mexican captain may not be very quick, but his presence is felt throughout this side, and his absence was evident for all to see Tuesday.
3. Araujo, Moreno partnership proving solid
Osorio's rotation policy is criticized by many, but the core of the team can usually be predicted. Herrera, Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno, Andres Guardado (currently injured), Marquez (when fully fit) and Hernandez start the vast majority of official games under the former Atletico Nacional coach.
The other name coming into that select group is Nestor Araujo. The Santos Laguna defender has been showered with praise by Osorio, and he's responded to the step up from being a decent Liga MX player to a regular international and someone whose future could be in Europe.
Particularly of note is the partnership Araujo is striking up with Moreno at the heart of the Mexican defense. The understanding between the duo is improving every game, and they went 180 minutes without conceding a goal this international break. They didn't really give up too many chances, either.
The right-footed Araujo is the more physically robust of the two, while Moreno reads the game very well, covers his partner and drops off when required.
The rock of any good side is the center-back partnership, and Mexico is going from strength to strength in that department.