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Raul Jimenez scores as Mexico beats Poland 1-0 to finish on a high

Raul Jimenez scores as Mexico beats Poland 1-0 to finish on a high
From ESPN - November 13, 2017

Mexico defeated Poland 1-0 on Monday in El Tri's final game of 2017. Here are three takes from the friendly:

1. Mexico ends 2017 on a high

This 1-0 win was significant, even in a friendly. It was another rare away game for Mexico, another chance to prove in Europe that this team has improved under Juan Carlos Osorio.

The answer was conclusive: Mexico made seven changes from the game against Belgium in Brussels and was the better team over the 90 minutes. The victory was deserved and there was a confidence flowing through the Mexican side, an assuredness about going to a difficult stadium and knowing how to get the result.

Javier Hernandez, Jesus Corona, Giovani dos Santos, Hector Herrera and Edson Alvarez were all ruled out for the match, but Osorio's experimental XI maintained the team's style in terms of keeping the ball and suffocating the opponent's efforts to get out of their half. Mexico enjoyed 62 percent of possession as Osorio changed to a 3-5-2 formation for Mexico's final game of 2017.

Javier Aquino was a surprise starter up front, and the Tigres player -- usually a winger -- played a key role as he burst into the penalty area in the 13th minute, with Raul Jimenez eventually lashing in the winner from 12 yards. Poland's Piotr Zielinski should have equalized in the 33rd, but in a game of few real chances, Mexico kept a confidence-boosting clean sheet. It was the first timeEl Tri had not conceded in its last five games.

The key to victory was the way Mexico competed. Left-back Jesus Gallardo was winning balls in the air, the Mexican team was organized as it pressed Poland and it stopped the European side having time to think on the ball.

In the end, it was Mexico that looked more likely to get a second than Poland the equalizer, even with each side ringing the changes.

This game wo not silence Osorio's critics, but it does send Mexico into 2018 with a sense that the team is on the right path and growing nicely towards the World Cup. El Tri ends 2017 with 15 wins, five losses and five draws, which is not bad, especially taking into account that for a period in the summer there was huge pressure on Osorio's job.

2. Guardado Mexico's midfield maestro

The link between the team's strong performance against Belgium in the 3-3 draw on Friday and the starting XI that featured in Gdansk was Andres Guardado. It is often forgotten that Mexico took on New Zealand in the CONCACAF-OFC playoff for a spot at the 2014 World Cup without Guardado, or a single Europe-based player.

Exactly four years on from that first leg in Estadio Azteca against New Zealand, it is unthinkable that someone like Guardado would not be called on for such a crucial match. The Europe-based players are now very much the core of the side.

There is not a list of specific moments that stood out against Poland. He did not smash a shot against the bar, dribble past three defenders to set up a goal or really do anything that will make the highlight reel. But Guardado's development from four years ago, when he was a doubt to start at the 2014 World Cup until Luis Montes was unfortunately injured, has been nothing short of spectacular.

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