Mexico had become a darling of this World Cup of surprises, and Miguel Herrera had become a darling because of his antics. Mexican soccer was back, and with every bit of optimism surrounding the camp they thought they could finally put their Round of 16 hoodoo behind them. Except it caught up with them again, and it was the first time that Herrera made a decision that ended up biting him that caused Mexico’s downfall.
After Gio Dos Santos’ golazo, Mexico had the advantage and the momentum going their way. It seemed that Louis Van Gaal’s tactics were working against him, as the Dutch could not counter-attack the Mexican system as fluidly as they had expected. A perceived weakness in midfield with Carlos Salcido was never exploited, and even though Mexico was not as strong in wide areas as in the group stage, they were still getting some joy. Interestingly, Piojo decided to bring on Javier Aquino for Giovani Dos Santos in the 61st minute, which stacked the midfield more and invited the Dutch to attack. Even as they had trouble finding a consistent attacking rhythm before, Mexico’s line sat deeper and deeper, and eventually forced Memo Ochoa into more heroics.
Chile saw it yesterday when they essentially played prevent defense in order to get to penalties. However Brazil was not able to hit them in any consistent way making it easy for Chile to defend. Throughout the tournament, Van Gaal’s men have started out slowly in attack but have built on the game slowly but surely to eventually take the game over by the end. With Mexico’s line sitting deep, it felt like only a matter of time before Holland scored and they did through Sneijder. Even if the penalty was on shaky footing, Rafa Marquez cannot commit to that challenge with all of the defenders around him. As quickly as Mexico was 3 minutes + stoppage time away from their first quarterfinals since 1986, it vanished just as quickly. And unfortunately, Miguel Herrera is to blame.
Mexico had not deviated from their lineup or system at any point during this tournament, even when faced with opportunities to change it. The only changes Piojo would make would be forced. So why then with 30 minutes plus a hefty amount of stoppage time to go did he decide to go to a more defensive shell and pack the midfield with Javier Aquino? Herrera, Guardado, and Salcido had done an admirable job limiting the influence of Sneijder, Robben and Van Persie for the majority of their time as a 3 man unit, but once Aquino slid in, Robben soon saw many more touches and as his influence grew, so did the worry for El Tri. The loss of Hector Moreno was obviously crucial, but the defensive substitution played the Dutch out of their own tactical quagmire and into the quarterfinals.
Miguel Herrera learned many of his tactics from Ricardo La Volpe through his playing days, and his system had worked incredibly well in the group stage. But the one time he felt he needed to deviate from it, it ended up causing Mexico’s own downfall. He’s still likely Mexico’s manager for years to come, and had El Tri believing in itself once again, but the blame cannot be put largely on Rafa Marquez or anyone else but him.
To deviate is sometimes dangerous, and for Miguel Herrera it ended up putting Mexico back where they always seem to end up in World Cups: Out in the Round of 16.