The Likeliest of Unlikely Heroes
Posted on August 1, 2012 16:07
With the group stage of the Men’s Olympic tourney now in the books, Mexico has done exactly what they were supposed to do: win the group. Before you do a spit take and try to conjure up with some pithy retort, remember, Mexico was chosen as one of the four seeds for the Olympic tournament. Seeded teams are supposed to win their groups.
It hasn’t necessarily been pretty – Mexico has only averaged a goal a game. The dream partnership of Marco Fabian, Giovani Dos Santos and Oribe Peralta has yet to take off. But Mexico’s defense has yet to give up a goal, and is a big reason why Mexico was able to harvest 7 points in their games vs Korea, Gabon, and Switzerland.
The other has been the solid performances of a 21 year old Chivas product; a crew-cutted pitbull by the name of Jorge “Chatón” Enríquez.
During the build-up to the tournament, Hector Herrera appeared on a litany of “watch lists” and with good reason. The Pachuca midfielder was a revelation in the Olympic qualifying tournament and continued his excellent form in the Toulon tournament, where he was named the player of the tournament. Herrera’s fine form was due in part to his mid-field buddy, Enríquez, whose defensive prowess allowed Herrera to roam forward with impunity.
As the Olympics started, though, Herrera was paired up with one of the overage players, Carlos Salcido. Their lack of chemistry was palpable, and neither complemented each other at all. If anything, they exposed each others weaknesses.
Chatón came on for Herrera against South Korea, a match that saw the Koreans outplay Mexico for most of the match. Korea’s relentless pressure bothered Mexico all day, but once Enríquez came in for Herrera, his presence not only gave Mexico a little more order, but also a thunderous presence in the middle that Mexico had lacked. As a result, they saw a little more of the ball and almost came away with a stoppage time winner. But in the end had to share the spoils.
After Hector Herrera sustained an ankle injury on a brutal cutdown by a Gabon defender, Chatón came on. Once again, the Chivas midfielder was instrumental in Mexico taking control of the game, and was nearly rewarded in the gloaming of Mexico’s 2-0 win, but his scissor kick went just wide. Herrera’s injury left him out of Mexico’s third group match vs. Switzerland, giving Enríquez his first start of the the tourney.
He did not disappoint.
For whatever reason, the partnership between Chatón and Salcido just seems to work better than the Herrera-Salcido venture. They communicate better, complement each other better, and cover up each other’s weaknesses. It also doesn’t hurt that Chatón’s mission in life appears to be put the kibosh on any and every opponent attack. After withstanding the early and expected Swiss onslaught, Chatón snuffed out countless Swiss maneuvers, and as their endurance waned, Mexico slowly took over. Mexico were much better in the second half and got a deserved 1-0 win with Oribe Peralta’s first strike since he won the title for Santos Laguna. If it were up to me, I would have named Chatón Man of the Match.
It’s no surprise that the young Chivas player has done well. He was awarded the Bronze Ball for his play as he captained Mexico’s efforts in last summer’s U20 World Cup in Colombia. And with his fine performances so far at the Olympics, he has helped Mexico join Brazil as the only countries to make the last 8 of each age-limit tournament over the past two years.
If Mexico beats Senegal on Saturday, then they will join Brazil (provided they get past Honduras) as the only two sides to make it through to the last 4 in the aforementioned tournaments as well.