Ireland simply the stooges as Mexico enjoy an easy win

Martin O’Neill experimented but will also be a little worried with certain performances

Mexico’s Raul Jimenez slots a penalty past Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph in their friendly win at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, USA. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA

Mexico’s Raul Jimenez slots a penalty past Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph in their friendly win at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, USA. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA

 

Mexico 3 (Corona 16’, Jimenez (P)25’, Vela 54’) Ireland 1 (Gleeson 77’)

The sense that the Irish had been hired here as extras for a Mexican party started long before the game kicked-off and Martin O’Neill’s men certainly did little to spoil the occasion for their opponents once it was under way.

Though Ireland got one goal and should have had another in the dying seconds, the truth of the matter is that the Mexicans were runaway winners and there were times when Ireland’s defence came apart like a pinata.

A decade after he made his international debut in these parts, Stephen Gleeson will return home with fond memories this time of a first international goal, but none of the peripheral players did too much to stake a claim for a place in the team for the qualifying game against Austria.

More worrying from the manager’s perspective, though, is that one or two of those who are real contenders to start that night were clearly off the pace having not played competitive club football for close to a month or more.

The Mexicans in the stand were in party mode from the start. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA
The Mexicans in the stand were in party mode from the start. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA

O’Neill had, of course, said that he did not mind too much if his side was beaten but the manner of the defeat was difficult to dress up. The Mexicans might have wanted, even needed, the win that much more but the defensive side of the Ireland’s game was chaotic with players looking well below the performance of their opponents . In the end, the Irish were only actually beaten by a couple of goals but it might so easily have been two or three more.

As he had suggested he would, O’Neill used the occasion to shake things up a bit – going with three at the back and handing the captaincy to James McClean on the night when he won his 50th cap. The manager sprang something of a surprise, though, in central midfield where Daryl Horgan and Callum O’Dowda started either side of Conor Hourihane and it was one of the areas in which the players’ lack of experience in their roles quickly told.

The back three struggled for the portion of the night that the manager persisted with it, and as Mexico created a succession of chances, the Irish were routinely left exchanging the sort of looks that suggested they didn’t entirely understand how it was all going quite so badly wrong.

The pace of the Mexican passing and movement was certainly a part of the problem but the ease with which they were able to sweep forward pointed to failings on Ireland’s organisational front. When pushing forward, O’Neill’s men looked capable of posing a threat at times and set pieces yielded a couple of half chances but in retreat they sometimes looked as though they were taking flight and nobody, it seemed, had the wherewithal to step up and steady the ship.

The Mexican players applaud the crowd at the end of the game. Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images
The Mexican players applaud the crowd at the end of the game. Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Mexico’s opener was the product of a fine break and finish but O’Neill must have winced at the way his team got themselves into trouble from what was a promising position. Conor Hourihane played a corner short to Cyrus Christie whose cross was intercepted. From that point on, the Irish were chasing their tails and Jorge Hernandez made the most of the opportunity, powering into open space then feeding the outstanding Jesus Corona who cut in from the left, going past Horgan then Richard Keogh, before firing over John Egan and into the top right corner.

As some of those around him struggled, McClean was clearly trying to provide some leadership but he did not look all that comfortable with the defensive side of the wing-back role at times either. He had his moments both good and bad but the standout one of the first half was conceding the penalty that led to Mexico’s second.

Raul Jiminez put it away to give Juan Carlos Osorio’s side a 2-0 lead at the break and when Oribe Peralta linked up nicely with Carlos Vela to get their third not long after the restart, there was a very real fear that Ireland might be severely embarrassed.

However, amid all the substitutions a little of the game’s rhythm was lost and, as Ireland improved, the Mexicans failed to maintain their momentum. O’Neill reverted to a back four and, while there were a few more close scrapes, the change did seem to help, although the greater part of the improvement came in midfield where Wes Hoolahan and Eunan O’Kane helped the team get a bit of passing going.

Gleeson’s goal was the product of a McClean cross and a defensive error at the other end but, to his credit, the midfielder kept his head to finish rather coolly. Remarkably, the Irish should then have narrowed the gap to just one goal but David McGoldrick got hopelessly under another McClean cross and somehow sent his shot well over from very close range.

A late Ireland surge might have dampened the mood for the crowd of 42,017, almost all of them Mexican, whose general exuberance suggested the win was in the bag from the very first minute. In reality it wasn’t long after that when it started to become clear which way the wind was blowing. Ireland must pick themselves up and go again on Sunday when Uruguay will provide the opposition in Dublin. O’Neill will take comfort from the fact that he will have stronger options by then while the players who featured here should be the better for it despite the beating.

MEXICO: Cota; Salcedo (Layun, half-time), Reyes, Moreno (Alanis, half-time), Gallardo; Herrera (Peralta, half-time), J Hernandez, Dos Santos (Aquino, 58 mins); Vela (Marquez, 68 mins), Jimenez, Corona (Pineda, 58 mins).

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Randolph; Keogh, Duffy, Egan (Long, 64); Christie (Browne, 73 mins), Horgan (Gleeson, 73 mins), O’Dowda, Hourihane (O’Kane, 64 mins), McClean; McGoldrick, Murphy (Hoolahan, 64 mins).

Referee: T Unkel (United States).

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