Youthful Wales hold Mexico despite Williams injury
A youthful Wales side held Mexico to a creditable goalless draw in Pasadena.
Wales lost captain Ashley Williams to injury in a first half in which keeper Wayne Hennessey kept Mexico at bay.
The visitors had to withstand heavy second-half pressure in front of a fervent, almost entirely Mexican crowd of 82,345 at the Rose Bowl.
But Wales manager Ryan Giggs continued to introduce young players into the fray and they rewarded his faith with a stoic defensive display.
Giggs gives youth a chance
Shorn of several first-team players such as Gareth Bale, Joe Allen and James Chester, Wales travelled to California with a relatively youthful and experimental squad.
Despite those withdrawals, Giggs was still able to select a strong starting line-up in Pasadena, while Chester’s absence meant defender Chris Mepham earned a first international start.
However, the Brentford player lost his more senior centre-back partner Williams after just 20 minutes, the Wales skipper leaving the field in agony after injuring his rib.
These were not the circumstances in which Giggs wanted to test the depth of his squad, but the silver lining to Williams’ departure was that it handed a fourth cap to his replacement, Bristol Rovers’ Tom Lockyer.
That change did not seem to disrupt Wales, who were organised, competitive and provided danger on the break in the form of young Liverpool winger Harry Wilson – but Mexico certainly had the better chances.
Sensing their growing threat and eager to give more experience to his fringe players, Giggs introduced youngsters Connor Roberts, Declan John and David Brooks at half-time and regularly tweaked his formation in what seemed to be a ploy to keep Mexico guessing with their tactical fluidity.
Although Mexico’s dominance increased as the second half wore on, Giggs persevered with his commitment to youth as 21-year-old Leicester forward George Thomas and Manchester City’s 18-year-old midfielder Matt Smith came on for their debuts.
This was in keeping with the manager’s first two matches in charge in the China Cup friendly tournament in March – and the end of his predecessor Chris Coleman’s reign.
In fact, the second-half introductions of Thomas and Smith meant Wales have given debuts to 11 players in their last five matches, as Giggs looks to expand the pool of Welsh talent at his disposal as he builds for the future.
Mexico’s World Cup party spoiled
While Wales had spent the past few months banishing the lingering disappointment of having failed to qualify for the World Cup, Mexico were using this game to prepare for a seventh successive appearance in the competition.
Their previous six campaigns had all ended at the last 16 stage but, with hopes of breaking through that ceiling in Russia this year, there was a sense of expectation among the throngs of Mexican supporters at the imposing Rose Bowl, the venue of the 1994 World Cup final.
In what was essentially a home match for this enormously populous and passionate – but somewhat underachieving – footballing nation and there was a carnival atmosphere as thousands of fans gathered for their tailgate parties outside the ground before kick-off.
Inside, the celebratory mood soon became one of frustration as the likes of Hector Herrera and Javier Aquino were thwarted by Hennessey.
Despite a flurry of late set-pieces, Mexico were unable to find a way past an obdurate Welsh defence and, when the final whistle blew, there were even a few jeers from the noisy El Tri faithful after watching what they deemed to be an underwhelming performance.
Man of the match – Wayne Hennessey