Mexico's first match of 2018 — in San Antonio's Alamodome against Bosnia and Herzegovina — will not have the eyes of the world upon it. An El Tri side without its biggest stars taking on a Bosnia team that also doesn't have its biggest stars will not draw many from outside the two nations.
The right sets of eyes, though, will be on the game for Mexico hopefuls. The players who are still holding out on the dream of making the 2018 World Cup squad know that coach Juan Carlos Osorio will be carefully observing their performance in training and, most importantly, how they play in Wednesday's friendly.
It might just be Bosnia in San Antonio, but a good performance there could lead you to Germany in Moscow — or at least get you on the plane there.
There is plenty to be gained in this match, and a number of players will be using their performance on the turf to make their case to Osorio that he must include them. Of course, there's also the risk that Bosnia gets the best of a player or two and sends their World Cup stock tumbling. Already, with the omission of players like Jorge Torres Nilo, Jesus Duenas and Jesus Molina (though Molina will hang on to hope after being included as a replacement for injured Victor Guzman), it seems the dream has ended for some players.
Who has the most to gain, or lose? Goal takes a look at five players who have plenty to prove Wednesday:
M - Jonathan Gonzalez (Monterrey)
Let's be honest: This is why we're all here. Jonathan Gonzalez's decision to represent Mexico and subsequent call-up to play in a friendly on the soil of the nation he spurned has added an element of fascination to this friendly. We saw what Gonzalez could do in the Apertura with Rayados, frantically charging at attackers and winning the ball more often than not, starting counterattacks from deep and ultimately helping the team make it all the way to the final. But Osorio thinks the 18-year-old has a more diverse set of skills than what Rayados manager Antonio Mohamed's system showcases.
How Gonzalez performs Wednesday, likely in a slightly more advanced role than he does with his club, could go a long way in determining the viability of him making it onto the World Cup roster. It won't be easy for Gonzalez. He's stood out in league play but so far is an unknown quantity at the senior national level. He'll need to turn in a good showing to earn a March recall and from there impress again to show he deserves to knock off a more veteran player who was part of Mexico's qualification campaign.
M - Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
Gio dos Santos is a known quantity in plenty of ways. He's been in the Mexico system for more than a decade now, playing for the country at the U-12 level at the Danone Nations Cup and returning to play a key part in the U-17 team's world championship win in Peru. He scored at the senior World Cup not even four years ago. Yet there's also something unknown about Dos Santos. Does he still have it? After moving to the LA Galaxy and struggling to dazzle in MLS as much as he'd hoped, is Dos Santos still a player Mexico needs at the World Cup? Does he do enough differently from a player like Marco Fabian or Carlos Vela to be included on the final roster?
Dos Santos actually has stolen the show in these kinds of friendly matches before, performing well last year against Iceland and also dominating an October 2016 game against New Zealand. Injury kept him out of Mexico's November friendly games against Belgium and Poland. A big performance against Bosnia and Herzegovina won't be as compelling as if he'd been able to see the field against top FIFA opposition, but he needs to make sure Osorio knows he worked hard in the offseason to get back to the level where he needs to be to make the roster.
D - Cesar Montes (Monterrey)
Mexico has a good crop of center backs who are locks for the World Cup. In Europe there's Hector Moreno, a left-footed option who is one of the first names on Osorio's list despite inactivity at Roma. There is Diego Reyes, who is now seeing more time with Porto. There is Carlos Salcdeo, who probably will play right back but starts in Frankfurt's three-man back line. Closer to home there is Nestor Araujo, the Santos Laguna defender who has won Osorio over with his positional awareness. So, it won't be easy for Monterrey center back Cesar Montes to work his way into the squad.
Montes' time in this week's training sessions may be the biggest key. He needs to convince Osorio that he's a better option in Russia than a player like Hugo Ayala. The Tigres center back is 10 years Montes' senior and provides consistency but little else. If the 20-year-old Monterrey defender can show off his attacking abilities, both in the box and playing out of the back, he may be able to push into the starting XI for the match and move up on the defensive depth chart.
M - Rodolfo Pizarro
Rodolfo Pizarro is another victim of playing a position where Osorio likely just has too many options. He had a decent Gold Cup with El Tri but Mexico still lacked an attacking spark that it hoped Pizarro would provide after Alan Pulido's injury kept him off the tournament roster (as it has done for this friendly).
Still, you shouldn't totally dismiss Pizarro's chances. The 23-year-old is looking more versatile than ever this tournament with Chivas, dropping into a deeper role next to Orbelin Pineda with Michael Perez injured but also playing his familiar spot up front and playing off Javier Lopez and Carlos Cisneros. There are other players who can perform similar roles (see Dos Santos, Giovani, above), but this shapes up to be the kind of match where the Pachuca product could pop up and grab some attention.
GK - Rodolfo Cota (Chivas)
Guillermo Ochoa. Jesus Corona. Rodolfo Cota? Cota already has made one trip to Russia, serving as the third goalkeeper at the Confederations Cup while Corona was out with an injury. Now it's Alfredo Talavera who isn't fit, but the Toluca goalkeeper is set to make his Liga MX return soon and with his skill in the air likely will win back his spot on the national team roster. Of course, with Corona staying home and resting, Talavera not yet fit and Ochoa in Europe, Cota will get a chance to strut his stuff against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It's tough for goalkeepers, as Osorio surely would rather see his defense excel and keep Bosnia from having many dangerous shots on the Chivas shot-stopper. But Cota still could impress and if fitness is a concern for any of the trio that's more likely to go to Russia may be able to win Osorio's confidence as the right man to turn to should disaster strike at the World Cup.