The 2018 World Cup is set up to be a typical one for Mexico. After a strong run through CONCACAF, El Tri is favored to escape the group stages for the seventh-straight tournament. For all of the criticism and frustration that always tends to surround El Tri, Mexico has been remarkably consistent on the field for the better part of two decades.
Still, that criticism has always loomed large and those expectations have always been shouldered by the team come the World Cup, and that’s no different this season.
The road to Russia has been a mixed back for Mexico, a team that has been seemingly been attempting to build up goodwill since since the 7-0 loss to Chile in the Copa America two years ago. Since, the boo birds have followed Juan Carlos Osorio and his team, even if, on paper, this group has the potential to make another run. Standing in their way are Germany, South Korea and Sweden, a difficult but manageable group with a clear path to second place.
The goal is, once again, the knockout stages, but even that might not be good enough. Many around El Tri are tired of falling short after four games, making a quarterfinal run an important target for Mexico.
“(We want to) go as far as possible, to be champions,” said Jonathan dos Santos. “We always said if you don’t go with that mindset then we won’t go far. The coach has changed the team’s mentality as well as our fans’, so we are going there to be champions
“There is still a game to be played, and they did not score enough goals to pass to the next round and that is what we will try to do,” Osorio told Goal. “We will try to be more offensive-minded and more driven towards winning games rather than just being happy to be there and trying to not get embarrassed or playing not to lose.”
As usual, it starts in the attack with Mexico as Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez leads the line alongside talented wingers in Hirving Lozano and Jesus Corona. Lozano, in particular, has been tipped by many as a potential breakout star as the PSV Eindhoven winger has the potential to become Mexico’s true attacking leader in Russia.
The midfield and defense, meanwhile, have been hit by injuries. Diego Reyes was forced off the final roster due to an injury issue while Andres Guardado, the team’s midfield lynchpin, enters with an injury of his own.
In the heart of the field, Guardado is joined by Hector Herrera as a likely central midfield option while the MLS trio of Jonathan dos Santos, Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela all could be used in a variety of ways behind ‘Chicharito’. Jonathan Dos Santos and Vela will be heading to their first World Cups while Giovani dos Santos will take part in his third with El Tri.
“Our chances are good,” said Jonathan dos Santos. “It’s a World Cup, so anything can happen. Every game is different. We have a very talented team with lots of experience. The most important thing I’ve always said is that we are a very united team off the field and I think that shows off the field. Every team has options but I think, with our mentality, we can go far in the tournament.”
That mentality has been built up by Osorio throughout his tenure, which has been a somewhat tumultuous one. Osorio has really pushed this Mexican group with heavy squad rotation all through the cycle, trying a number of different looks and players in different situations all throughout his tenure.
Always the tactician, Mexico can line up in a number of different ways. They’ve played three-at-the-back and with four in defense. They play with a high defensive line, but are disciplined enough to also absorb pressure. Osorio likes his teams to be flexible, and this Mexico team has the ability to do that.
The question is if the team can hold up. There are weaknesses in central midfield, especially with Guardado’s injury. Defensively, Mexico has struggled a bit recently, especially in a 2-0 loss to Denmark just before heading to Russia. In the attack, ‘Chicharito’ is coming off a less-than-stellar season with West Ham and Giovani dos Santos has been out of form for quite some time.
El Tri will start against Germany on Sunday in a match that could set a tone. Just last year, El Tri fell to a young Germany team, 4-1, in the Confederations Cup, giving them a taste of what’s to come. Should the German’s finish top and Mexico second, El Tri would almost certainly take on Brazil in the knockout stages.
There’s a difficult road ahead of Mexico as they set their sights on another knockout round push in a tournament that the team hopes can be a step forward for the national team.
“It will be a very big challenge to debut in the World Cup against the champions,” dos Santos said. “It will be a very nice game to play, very difficult, but I also think they are cautious of us. They know what team we are. We faced them in the Confederations Cup. They beat us but, in a World Cup, anything can happen.
“What better way to kick off a World Cup than against one of the favorites?” We’ll give it everything we have to get a good result,” added Giovani dos Santos, “and it will be a good game to see how far we can go in the tournament.”