Mexico 1-1 England – Match Report
Monica Ocampo cancelled out Fara Williams’ opener to deny England three points in their opening game at the Women’s World Cup. Both sides set out in a rough 4-2-3-1, but their interpretations of it were very different. Mexico set up in a defensive-minded fashion, looking to deny England space between the lines. Captain Maribel Dominguez ran the channels and held up the ball up front as the lone striker, and received the most support from Dinora Garza. Their defence played narrow and deep, and they looked to hit on the counter through their static double pivot. England’s 4-2-3-1 was far more attack-minded, with talisman Kelly Smith playing off the pacey Eniola Aluko. Rachel Yankey played narrow on the left, and Karen Carney played high up the pitch and wide on the right.
England start well
Mexico seemed to play for the draw from the start, which immediately lent the initiative to England. On the other hand, the deep and compact nature of the Mexican defending denied the English attack of one of their major weapons, the pace of their front three. Rachel Yankey, in particular, was struggling to influence the game, denied space and time to run or shoot, and Rachel Unitt at left-back was disappointing in her attacking instincts. With Yankey narrow and no obvious opponent near her due to Stephany Mayor’s equally tucked-in position, there was lots of space for her to exploit, but the runs never came. Alex Scott and Karen Carney had a better understanding on the right, and as a result much more joy when attacking. Scott’s energy and pace allowed her to support Carney, who moved inside when she was aware of the full-back overlapping. With Monica Ocampo loath to do her defensive duties and Luz del Rosario Saucedo overloaded with attackers in her left-back berth, the majority of England’s attacks came down their right.
With the Mexican double pivot staying in position and not looking to break forward, Jill Scott and Fara Williams could take it in turns to support the attack. Williams, in particular, was taking much of the creative onus off Kelly Smith, spraying accurate passes from deep and spreading play well. She also threatened from range, forcing the 16 year old Santiago into several good saves. It was from a set-piece, however, that England’s lead would come from, with Carney’s excellent corner swung right onto Fara Williams’ head, and her looping header went in past the well-beaten Santiago.
In Kelly Smith, England possess one of the finest woman footballers on the planet. Playing as a trequartista, and the most obvious threat in England’s lineup she was invariably tracked by the two Mexican deep holders. In order to escape their attentions, she dropped deeper and moved laterally across the pitch. With Guadalupe Worbis and Nayeli Rangel reluctant to track Smith across the pitch and risk leaving their defence exposed, Smith was able to create freely from a variety of positions. She often ended up in an inside-right position, with Carney and Scott giving England a 3v2 situation with Smith against Saucedo and Worbis.
Regardless of what Smith did, however, she attracted close marking, often double- or triple-marking. She dealt with this impeccably: when in possession, she often beat her markers with excellent close control and tricks, and when out of possession Smith tried to draw markers away from where England were attacking in order to open up space for the rest of the team. The movement of Smith put the Mexican defence under constant threat, whether they marked her or let her go free, and Williams in particular constantly exploited any space made by Smith.
The Mexicans were playing in a classic ‘underdog’ style: the strong, bustling Maribel Dominguez held the ball up superbly and hassled the English defenders. The defence was narrow, deep and the band of three behind the striker attempted to flood the midfield and deny England control of the midfield. The runner who seemed to have the job of being Dominguez’s closest support was Dinora Garza, which caused a number of problems. Firstly, Garza was busy helping level the numbers in midfield, with Yankey’s narrow position giving England a numerical advantage in the centre of midfield against the Mexican double pivot. In addition to this, with the Mexican defence deep and the midfield attempting to deny Smith space in between the lines, there was often a huge gulf between Dominguez and her supporting band of three.
With England in the ascendancy, it took a moment of magic from Monica Ocampo to equalise. The diminutive Mexican received the ball thirty yards out and leathered a looping shot towards goal which Karen Bardsley misjudged, and the ball flew in to level the match. The goal unsettled England a little, disrupting their previously crisp passing. Even the excellent Williams was misplacing passes, and Eniola Aluko became more and more isolated as Smith dropped ever deeper in search of possession. Thankfully for England, the half came to a close after a scrappy spell with neither side truly taking control.
Mexico play for the draw, and England run out of ideas
England started the second half as enterprisingly as they did the first. The game had settled into a distinct pattern: England dominating possession and threatening through intricate passing moves and pinpoint throughballs, and Mexico sitting back and hitting on the counter through Dominguez’s pace and power. Aluko, however, was having a bad game. With her pace nullified by a deep defensive line, her finishing was wayward. As Carney was replaced by a striker, Ellen White, and Aluko dropped into position on the right wing, the Mexicans also made a change with Juana Lopez coming on for Dominguez. This prompted a reshuffle, as Lopez dropped into the trequartista position and Garza took the vacated striker position. England were the more progressive of the two sides, but were let down by sloppiness in possession. Even the normally-excellent Kelly Smith was guilty of giving the ball away as England tired, and with Mexico playing for the draw there was little opportunity for a winner.
Mexico’s defensive discipline was excellent all game, rarely allowing themselves to be pulled apart by the movement of Smith and Williams. When they were, Aluko spurn the opportunities, and England gradually began to run out of ideas. It could be argued that the relatively ineffective Yankey could have been withdrawn for a more natural winger, perhaps the direct running of Jessica Clarke. The Mexicans will be happy with the result: a point against an England side widely regarded as competitors for the tournament. Dominguez distinguished herself with discipline and excellent stamina and strength, and both Garciamendez and Sandoval were solid at the back. England, on the other hand, should be disappointed with just a point. For all their technical superiority, they were unable to break down a solid Mexican defence. What chances they did create, Eniola Aluko missed, and her understudy Ellen White will be confident of starting the next game. However, Hope Powell looks unlikely to change the starting lineup too much, which is sensible considering that the team looks fairly settled and in tune with one another. Kelly Smith was predictably excellent, and Faye White has come back from another injury to perform at a high level, and it is around these two and other veterans such as Rachel Yankey and Casey Stoney that England will look to build their challenge for the World Cup.