Second-half substitute Elías Hernández scored in the 88th minute to help Mexico edge Colombia 1-0 on Tuesday at Monterrey’s Estadio Universitario.
The match, El Tri’s third consecutive on Mexican soil, marks their first win since the end of the World Cup.
The opening minutes were marred by inaccuracy, as neither Mexico, whose start here was reminiscent to that one in their loss against Ecuador last Saturday, nor Colombia could get their touch right.
Both teams kept losing balls in the midfield due to inaccurate passing and, in what could have been Mexico’s first chance on goal in the fifth minute, Pablo Barrera whiffed his shot after dribbling into Colombia’s box.
Nonetheless, Mexico kept pushing forward and, in the 10th minute, got their first shot on goal when Andrés Guardado sent a blast from directly to Colombia 'keeper Davis Ospina, who pushed it over his bar for a corner.
While El Tri focused on straight-forward attacks, Colombia used every touch they got on the ball to find their rhythm. And they eventually did.
In the 21st minute, Gustavo Adrián Ramos made a short run behind the Mexican defense and was spotted by Javier Restrepo, who chipped a ball right onto him, but Ramos skied his shot with just Guillermo Ochoa to beat.
El Tri answered back with a close call of their own just five minutes later. Barrera tried dribbling past two defenders on the right flank, but the ball was poked out of his control. The bounce found Giovani dos Santos eight yards from goal, but he caught it on a bad hop and crashed it against the crossbar.
Neither team could establish clear possession in the remaining 20 minutes, and the trend continued into the second half.
New York Red Bulls midfielder Rafa Márquez had a quiet night as captain of El Tri and was replaced by Gerardo Torrado in the 54th minute.
Also in the 54th minute, Mexico brought on Hernández to replace Barrera, and he immediately generated El Tri’s clearest chance of the half. The midfielder sent a cross to Giovani on the far post and out of Ospina’s reach, but the attacker couldn’t decide whether to shoot or cross and his weak ball was cleared near the line by a defender.
In all, Mexico made six substitutions in the second half to Colombia’s three. It seemed that not one of those changes would work for either squad as the second half was marked by chippy, physical play.
However, it was Hernández who came through as the hero for the match. The midfielder was at the right place at the right time to bury a rebound one minute from the end after fellow second-half sub Enrique Esqueda's potent blast from outside was too hard for Ospina to control.
Colombia refused to go quietly, though. Two minutes into injury time, los Cafeteros won a free kick 22 yards out from Ochoa’s goal. Hugo Rodallega, with his right foot, floated his shot out of Ochoa’s reach and momentarily sucked the soul out of Mexico players and fans. But the ball hit the post.
The victory for Mexico, under the management of Efraín Flores on Tuesday night, is the first for either of the two interim coaches currently at the helm of the national team (Enrique Meza serves as the other caregiver coach).
MEX – Hernández, 89’
Mexico – Ochoa, Salcido, Moreno (Rodríguez, 64’), López, Juárez, Guardado (Esqueda, 67’), Ríos, Márquez (Torrado, 54’), Barrera (E. Hernández), J. Hernández (Orozco, 72’), dos Santos (Vela, 73’)
Colombia – Ospina, Valencia, Yépes, Córdoba, Zúñiga, Ramos (Cuadrado, 66’), Restrepo, Viáfara, Anchico (Moreno, 49’), Falcao (Rodallega, 62’), Moreno