June 27, 2011

England 1, Mexico 1

England and Mexico battled for 90 minutes to a hard-fought draw in Wolfsburg. The match was well contested throughout, with both sides having several good chances to score, but the match ended in a 1-1 tie.

This is a much improved side we are seeing from Mexico these days and they stayed with the tough English team blow for blow in this match. They nearly went on top in the opening minutes as Maribel Dominguez was given a nice through-ball that put her temporarily behind the English defense, but veteran defender Faye White made a nice recovery and Dominguez was unable to get a shot off.

For England, early on, it was shots from distance that seemed to be the order of the day. Kelly Smith's near miss just past the right post was the first of many that England would try in the first half. Apparently, the English were trying to test 16-year old Mexican keeper Cecilia Santiago early and often.

With no score in the 21st minute, England gained a corner kick on the right side. Karen Carney took the kick with the ball going high to the right side of the box, about 15 yards away. English midfielder Fara Williams was able to get height over the Mexican defender and headed the ball into the upper right corner of the net, while Santiago watched helplessly. England led 1-0.

Santiago appeared unfazed just a few minutes later as she was able to make a diving stop on Williams' attempt from 22 yards and smother it without rebound.

Then, what appeared to be a very innocuous play from Mexico resulted in a goal. The Mexicans gained possession in the midfield and after a couple of passes the ball came to Monica Ocampo, a good 35 yards away from the goal.

Ocampo touched the ball to the center of the field and then ripped a shot that curled under the bar and beyond a very stunned Karen Bardsley to tie the match at one. Bardsley appeared to be deceived by both the pace and spin on the shot and attempted to catch it two-handed instead of punching the ball away. As it turned out, it was just out of her reach and the match went into intermission tied at one.

Although they didn't score, the two great strikers in this match, Kelly Smith and Maribel Dominguez did not disappoint anyone with their play. Dominguez seemed to be perpetually on the run and menacing the English back line. Smith, as usual, controlled the center of the field, distributing well to teammates and taking a shot or two herself when the opportunity presented itself. Dominguez eventual developed a cramp late in the contest and was substituted out, but not before she threw a few scares into the English team.

While England had the better of chances and possession in the first half, Mexico gained confidence after Ocampo's goal. They nearly took the lead in the 49th minute as Dominguez struck her free kick from 22 yards just wide of the left post.

England took their turn just five minutes later as Rachel Yankey's cross to the back post was headed to the middle by Karen Carney, but Eni Aluko's swing at the ball from directly in front of the net produced nothing.

The English might have been a tad lucky in the 60th minute as Rachel Unitt's late challenge on Alina Garciamendez in the penalty area did not result in a call and the English defense were able to clear.

In the closing minutes of the game, both teams were presented with golden chances on free kicks. Smith's attempt from 25 yards went over the bar, while Ocampo's try from similar distance was even closer, just inches over the crossbar.

It appeared that Mexico had plenty of energy in the last few minutes, while England appeared to be worn out. Two minutes into stoppage, Mexico pressured inside England's penalty area, but Stephany Mayor's blast was blocked by Ellen White just yards in front of the goal to avert disaster.

While the result was a tie, the young Mexican squad had to be very happy with their performance and should gain confidence for the road ahead. They were able to strike back within minutes of falling behind in the match and showed more energy and greater possession as the match wore on.

Perhaps, a disappointing result for England, but their task against a very tough Mexican team was not that easy. England next faces New Zealand, a team that tied them in the Peace Cup last fall. Mexico will now face Group B leaders Japan. A victory against the Japanese would put Mexico in very good shape to advance to the quarterfinals.