SEVEN IN A ROW FOR EL TRI
Mexico qualified for their seventh successive World Cup with three games to spare after beating Panama 1-0 in the Estadio Azteca while the USA crashed to a 2-0 defeat by Costa Rica in New Jersey.
The comfortable qualification for El Tri was in stark contrast to four years ago, when everything went down to the wire and a play-off against New Zealand after Mexico finished fourth in the final CONCACAF “hexagonal” qualifying group.
Early qualification this time gave Mexico’s Colombian coach Juan Carlos Osorio the chance to experiment with home-based players in October’s final qualifying games against Trinidad & Tobago and Honduras.
In contrast, the United States, reeling from their loss to Costa Rica, needed a late equaliser from substitute Bobby Wood to take a point from their visit to Honduras four days later. Those poor results left Bruce Arena’s side in fourth place and needing to beat third-place Panama in their penultimate Hexagonal game to avoid a play-off against Australia or Syria.
It has not been all plain sailing for Mexico under Osorio. They were thrashed 7-0 by Chile at the 2016 Copa America Centenario and failed to sparkle at the Confederations Cup in Russia, where Osorio collected a six game-ban for aggressive behaviour on the touchline. At this summer’s Gold Cup, a Mexican B team crashed out to Jamaica in the semi-finals.
Osorio has been backed by the Mexican federation on his insistence that World Cup qualification was the team’s priority. But he has faced criticism in the press – with Hugo Sanchez and former national coach Ricardo La Volpe sniping from the sidelines – and from fans in the stands.
Much of the hostility towards Osorio has centred on his passion for squad rotation. He has used 63 players since he took charge of the national side in October 2015 and only a small, core group of European-based players have played in a majority of games.
The 56-year-old claims he learned the importance of player rotation when spying on Gerard Houllier’s training sessions at Liverpool while a student at the city’s John Moores University.
A former fitness coach for Kevin Keegan’s Manchester City, Osorio has worked his way up the hard way. Atletico Nacional’s 2015 Sudamericana Cup is his greatest success to date and he has struggled to win over the Mexican football establishment in what is the biggest job of his career so far.
Yet despite the snipers, Osorio has the highest win percentage among Mexican coaches of recent times and he now has the luxury of having time to spare while preparing for next summer’s finals.
He has plenty of options in attack, where Hirving Lozano, who scored the goal against Panama that clinched qualification and who is thriving at PSV in Holland, competes with Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Jesus Corona and Raul Jimenez. They are the main contenders to form the front three in an energetic, high-pressing 4-3-3 formation.
The coach has more concerns about midfield and defence, where a number of his players are not getting game time at their clubs in Europe. Hector Herrera and Diego Reyes at Porto, and Hector Moreno at Roma, are struggling to hold down first-team places, while goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s career has stalled at Standard Liege in Belgium.
Versatile 19-year-old defender Edson Alvarez looks promising but
Confusion surrounds the status of veteran defender Rafael Marquez, 38, who has denied alleged links to a drugs-trafficking organisation
Through...Hirving Lozano celebrates scoring for Mexico against Panama
Promising... Edson Alvarez