If he was not the best player on the field for Mexico in their 5-1 win over New Zealand in the first leg of their World Cup Qualifying Playoff tiebreaker, striker Oribe Peralta was certainly one of the three best players on the field by scoring two goals and playing a big role in Mexico’s first goal.
So good was Peralta’s performance that when he was substituted for right after he scored his second to make it 4-0, the entire stadium gave him a standing ovation to show how much they appreciated his efforts. Even TV Azteca commentator Christian Martinolli couldn’t hide his admiration for Peralta, and his call of Peralta’s second goal is one you must watch on YouTube.
What Peralta’s performance on Wednesday showed was that he, and not Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, has become the undisputed goalscorer at the striker position. He’s the player whom, barring some miracle by New Zealand next Wednesday, will be a starter in Mexico’s first game in group play at the World Cup next summer.
The transformation of Peralta as a reliable goalscorer did not just take place in the last seven games that he has played for ‘El Tri’ in which has scored seven goals, it has been a process that has developed over time.
A late bloomer of sorts, the 29-year-old really began to cement himself within the national team setup back in 2011 when he was part of the squad that played in the Copa America tournament.
While things did not go well for Mexico as they failed to advance out of the group stage, Peralta would get to enjoy some success later on in the year as he was a key member of a Mexico team that won the Pan-American Games on home soil finishing as the tournament’s top goalscorer with six goals scored. His success meant that Peralta would be a part of the squad were Mexico to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics which they would accomplish.
In the 2012 Summer Olympics, Peralta was once again a key player for a Mexico team that won the gold medal as he scored the game-winning goal in the semifinal game against Japan and scored the opener in the gold medal game against Brazil. Injuries limited Peralta’s ability to contribute to the Mexican national team, and it was one of a number of reasons to explain Mexico’s poor play in 2013.
Luckily, for Mexico and Miguel Herrera, Peralta is healthy and having him back as a contributor has shown to prove why he has now become the main man upfront for ‘El Tri’.
Peralta has proven that he is a must in any Mexico starting 11 as what he brings to the table cannot be understated. Aside from scoring regularly for club and country for the past 18 months, Peralta can play as either the the central striker position or he can play as the withdrawn striker. Such tactical flexibility was on display on Wednesday as his partnership with Raul Jimenez upfront worked very well.
With Peralta’s ability in the air, his presence upfront gives Mexico some aerial presence with wingbacks or fullbacks like Miguel Layun or Paul Aguilar knowing that a quality crossing pass into the area in the direction of Peralta can result in a goal.
It is clear that Peralta does not have the name recognition on the international stage that Chicharito holds given that he plays for Manchester United, but it is clear that Peralta has supplanted Chicharito as Mexico’s most important forward. While this has come as an immediate surprise for many, the genesis of Peralta becoming so important has been several years in the making.