Natal: Mexico were rewarded for their attacking play when Oribe Peralta’s 61st-minute strike gave them a 1-0 win over Cameroon in their World Cup opener, at a rain-soaked Dunas Arena here on Friday.
The Mexicans had two Giovani Dos Santos efforts controversially disallowed in the first half, but Peralta’s goal meant they will now feel they have a good chance of progressing from Group A, which also includes hosts Brazil and Croatia.
Cameroon, who only arrived in Brazil after a player strike was averted by last-minute negotiations, had packed their midfield in an attempt to stifle the Mexicans. Lone striker Samuel Eto’ failed to find the goal with his few opportunities.
Mexico came out to attack as coach Miguel Herrera had promised and El Tri dominated the opening exchanges with wingbacks Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar getting plenty of space out wide. Dos Santos first found the net after 11 minutes but was called back despite appearing to be in line with the defenders. Cameroon could have taken the lead after 21 minutes, when fullback Benoit Assou-Ekotto beat two defenders and found Eto’ in the box. But the striker was able only hit the outside of the post.
If the decision to deny Dos Santos a first goal could be called a marginal call, the second was a clear error.
A corner swung in from the left was flicked on by one Cameroon defender and, as another raced off the line, Dos Santos managed to turn back and angle the ball into the net with his head. Peralta almost broke the deadlock three minutes after the break after Dos Santos played him through on goal, but Cameroon goalkeeper Charles Itandje blocked his shot with his legs.
Cameroon’s Assou-Ekotto had a free kick deflected off the Mexico wall and just wide after 58 minutes, but the game did not have to wait much longer for its first goal.
Dos Santos was released through the middle of the Cameroon defence and when Itandje managed to stop his low drive, Peralta was on hand to steer the ball into the empty net and send Herrera and the thousands of Mexican fans into paroxyms of joy.
Cameroon continued to threaten from set pieces and Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was forced to make a fine save to deny Benjamin Moukandjo in stoppage time. Miguel Herrera's men started on the offensive and took the game to their opponents, and only a series of sliding interceptions prevented the Mexicans going clean through on goal in the early minutes of the match.
Cameroon, too, had their moments. A purposeful, pacy burst down the left from Benoit Assou-Ekotto found Eto’. But his first-time shot crashed against the post and went wide. Mexico had a great chance on 26 minutes. A free-kick completely exposed Cameroon and appeared set to give Hector Moreno a free header, just yards out. As the in-flight Espanyol defender readied himself to make contact, however, his leaping teammate Rafael Marquez flicked the ball out for a goal-kick.
The frenetic pace carried on into the second half, and within minutes Peralta went clean through on goal, only for goalkeeper Itandje to make himself big and block the shot. Assou-Ekotto had a free-kick deflected wide, before Mexico finally made the breakthrough just past the hour.
Mexico: Guillermo Ochoa; Paul Aguilar, Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Marquez, Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun, Andres Guardado (Marco Fabian, 69th); Hector Herrera (Carlos Salcido, 90th, injury time), Jose Vazquez; Giovani Dos Santos, Oribe Peralta (Javier Hernandez, 74th).
Cameroon: Charles Itandje; Cedric Djeugoue (Dany Nounkeu, 46th), Nicolas N’Koulou, Aurelien Chedjou, Benoit Assou-Ekotto; Stephane M'Bia, Alex Song (Pierre Webo, 79th), Eyong Enoh; Benjamin Moukandjo, Samuel Eto’, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Man of the Match: Giovani Dos Santos
Referee: Wilmar Roldan (Colombia)