Fabian back from the wilderness as reshuffled Mexico beats resolute Iceland
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- One goal from Marco Fabian and two second-half strikes from Miguel Layun helped Mexico to a 3-0 victory over Iceland on Friday in front of 68,917 fans in Levi's Stadium.
Here are three takes from the international friendly:
1. Osorio's changes pay off for El Tri
Talk of Mexico's 7-0 defeat to Chile last time El Tri took the field at Levi's Stadium made up a significant part of the narrative in the buildup to this friendly, but for Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio this was always about how his team could compete against a direct team that isn't unlike World Cup group rival Sweden.
Fabian struck from a free kick eight minutes before half-time and Layun latched onto a perfectly-weighted Hirving Lozano through ball in the 67th to increase the lead. Layun then added a third just before the final whistle with a lofted shot from distance that caught Iceland goalkeeper Runar Runarsson off his line, although the Sevilla player was lucky to be on the field after kicking out at Birkir Bjarnason just minutes before.
True to his reputation, Osorio sprung some surprises in the starting XI and formation. Carlos Salcedo, Nestor Araujo and Hector Moreno made up the back three, with Diego Reyes screening in front in a 3-3-1-3 formation. Andres Guardado and Layun played on the left and right of midfield, with Fabian in an attacking midfield role and Jesus Corona, Jesus Gallardo and Raul Jimenez up front.
Are the changes leading to fluid and cohesive performances? Not always, but this was Mexico's 30th victory in the 45th game since Osorio took over the Mexico national team. Osorio has been convincing the Mexico squad of his methods and results like this victory over Iceland have been the result. And when you consider that key players such as Hirving Lozano, Javier Hernandez, Hector Herrera and Carlos Vela began the game on the bench, it was a good night's work for Mexico.
Talk of the 7-0 might have been mentioned beforehand, but the story at Levi's Stadium was that Mexico had bounced back from that devastating night with renewed resolve and steel, with preparation for Russia 2018 right on track.
2. Fabian back and making an impact
If Marco Fabian's celebration -- after curling in a inch-perfect free kick against Iceland to hand Mexico the lead -- seemed overly exuberant, you could probably forgive him. The best part of the past nine months of Fabian's career was put on hold as the Guadalajara native recovered from a back complaint that he says required him to consult numerous specialists in Europe to find a cure. Fabian struggled to walk at times and returned for club side Eintracht Frankfurt only in February. Oddly he hadn't played a game in Germany in over a month when he was named in Osorio's starting XI to face Iceland.
Osorio had picked out 28-year-old Fabian beforehand as one of the Mexican players that had followed his fitness plan -- which a group of 40 El Tri possibles are adhering to in order to arrive at the World Cup in top condition -- to the letter and rewarded his adherence by starting the former Chivas player.
Fabian played behind Raul Jimenez in the first half -- and for 30 minutes of the second behind Oribe Peralta -- and was busy attempting to get in between the lines of Iceland's compact 4-4-2 formation.
But as Mexico struggled to break Iceland down, it was a moment of brilliance from Fabian that opened the scoring.
Those who have watched Fabian's career through his days in Liga MX at Chivas, the Olympic gold medal in London and his breakthrough in Germany won't be in any way surprised. He has created a YouTube highlight reel of golazos that few can match and this one clearly meant that little bit more while sending a message to Osorio that he is more than ready for Russia.
3. Iceland on track despite defeat
Heimir Hallgrimsson won't be throwing out the Iceland blueprint for success based on this one result. His team stuck to exactly what they know and didn't fall very short against a team ranked one place above it in the FIFA rankings.
Iceland played a standard 4-4-2 and arguably created the better opportunities against Mexico -- especially in the first half -- for whom goalkeeper Jesus Corona was one of the best players.
The direct balls into the box unsettled Mexico, even if Osorio's ploy of fielding five players that you could consider decent in the air helped El Tri be more resilient than it otherwise would've been.
The absence of Everton striker Gylfi Sigurdsson was notable. The brusque challenges, high balls and exceptionally well-worked set pieces won't always be enough. And during Iceland's rise, the player who has provided those genuine moments of technical quality has been Sigurdsson. The good news for Hallgrimsson is that Sigurdsson should be back playing Premier League football before the end of the season and should be ready for the World Cup.
The other lesson is that Iceland really can't afford to go behind in the first half and be chasing the game against a possession-based team like Mexico and even less so in the country's World Cup opener versus Argentina. El Tri's second and decisive goal came via a transition with Iceland pushing more forward than it looked comfortable doing.
The Vikings will get another chance against a not too dissimilar opposition on Tuesday against Peru.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.