El Tri grinds out victory over El Salvador
When the end finally came -- of what at times was a rugged, physical match against El Salvador -- there was a palpable sense of relief on the faces of Mexican players. Although they had won, El Tri players appeared worn out from a hotly fought contest.
El Salvador isn't in Mexico's class in regards to quality of play, yet matches in San Salvador's Estadio Cuscatlan are always treacherous. In a sense, Mexico faced the type of atmosphere that usually greets opponents at Estadio Azteca: loud jeers, water bottles and debris thrown in its direction during corner kicks, and haphazard officiating.
For the second consecutive match, Mexico was not stylistically impressive, yet unlike the victory against Guyana, the 2-1 win against El Salvador on Tuesday was indicative of the attitude of El Tri's new generation, which has learned to persevere under dire conditions. It was only three years ago that a 2-1 loss to El Salvador at Cuscatlan put Mexico in a precarious position to possibly miss out on the 2010 World Cup. Only two players from that team started Friday against Guyana in what has amounted to a national team reset. This is a different team, in a different era.
Tuesday's qualifier wasn't a must-win, but it puts Mexico in an excellent position. El Tri sits atop the group with six points without having played group co-favorite Costa Rica. A loss against El Salvador would have made the road Costa Rica match Sept. 7 a much more important match than it is now. Now El Tri will have the opportunity to rest for a few months.
Not that Mexico should be satisfied. While Tuesday's win was hard fought, it was never pretty. Mexico persevered; it didn't impress.