Villarreal’s Dos Santos putting Mexico place in doubt with mercurial performances

Villarreal player's starting place under scrutiny after performances that swing between invincible and invisible, writes Gary Meenaghan

Mexico forward Giovani Dos Santos runs with the ball during a 2014 World Cup Group A match against Croatia at the Pernambuco Arena in Recife on June 23, 2014. Emmanuel Dunand / AFP
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Even his name alludes to a certain split personality.

Giovani dos Santos, half-Brazilian, half-Mexican and with a surname that translates as “Two Saints”, has an enigmatic ability to appear, over the course of two matches, as if he were two separate players.

One game, he is invincible; the next, he is invisible. A world beater one day; a weak link the next. The first name on the teamsheet and then the first to be hauled off mid-game.

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At the World Cup, things have appeared no different. In Mexico’s opening match against Cameroon, the speedy forward looked electric as he netted twice in the first half, only to see both goals incorrectly ruled out for offside.

When Mexico finally did open the scoring, it was his shot, which rebounded into the path of strike partner Oribe Peralta, that was converted.

In the next match against Brazil, he failed to make an impact, managing just two shots. In the final group game against Croatia, he was removed after little more than an hour, having failed to create a single goal-scoring opportunity or have a shot at goal.

Mexico scored three goals in the final 30 minutes.

Such inconsistency has led to the question of whether Dos Santos is worth his place in the side.

On Sunday, when Mexico meet the Netherlands in the second round, the focus will be on Dos Santos again, and more intensely than ever. He has not scored for more than a year and is keeping out Javier Hernandez, who had gone more than a year without a goal but ended his drought against Croatia.

Mexico have negotiated the group stage at every tournament since 1994 yet never progressed deeper than the second round.

Against the Netherlands, so impressive in attack during the group stages, the Mexicans will be underdogs. Yet they have shown during their own unbeaten group run that they must not be discounted.

Dos Santos, whose Sao Paulo-born father Zizinho played professionally, grew up idolising Ronaldinho and, having come through the ranks at Barcelona, found himself being compared to the Brazilian star.

When the Mexican scored a hat-trick for Barca on the final day of the 2008 season against Real Murcia, his reputation strengthened. It soon crumbled.

A move to the English Premier League and Tottenham Hotspur that summer was supposed to afford him first-team football and a stage on which to shine, alongside fellow new signings Luka Modric and David Bentley.

When Spurs sacked Spaniard Juande Ramos as manager after eight games, Dos Santos’s hopes of succeeding in England looked over. He was used sparingly by the next manager Harry Redknapp, who said of him: “If he could pass a nightclub as well as he could pass a ball, he would be OK.”

After loan spells at Ipswich Town, Galatasaray and Racing Santander, he joined Real Mallorca and was relegated. His career trajectory was quickly appearing more Bentley than Modric.

He then secured a move to Villarreal, where he is working again under former Racing coach Marcelino Garcia and has never appeared more settled.

Today's test against the Netherlands is a perfect chance for Dos Santos to prove himself. On his day, he has the ability to alter outcomes in a way similar to Arjen Robben and has done so previously, none more memorably than in the 2011 Concacaf Gold Cup final against the United States.

Yet for every Olympic gold there has so far been an invisible Europa League appearance; every Player of the Tournament award followed up by a lacklustre performance that leads to early substitution. The time is now for Dos Santos. Will the real Giovani please stand up?

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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