By Tom Marshall | Mexico Expert
Mexico crashed out of the Confederations Cup without so much as making a ripple and are struggling to qualify for the World Cup from one of the world’s weakest confederations.
With just one win in 11 games in 2013, El Tri have scored only seven goals and have looked devoid of any attacking fluidity.
It wasn’t meant to be like this.
This year was supposed to be one in which Mexico steam-rolled to Brazil 2014, destroying Concacaf all-comers, while using the Confederations Cup as a real statement of intent that they were ready to ditch the also-rans tag and step up to the next level on the world stage.
A little over-ambitious, perhaps, but such was the confidence of Mexico and the general consensus in the Concacaf region following last summer’s Olympic gold medal and recent success in both the Under-20s and Under-17s categories.
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But the argument is redundant at present with El Tri not even likely to finish top of their Concacaf qualifying group. It would also represent a risk as Mexico are all but guaranteed World Cup qualification with the present status quo.
No-one expected the wheels to fall off like they have and Mexico to go from a team that defeated Brazil 2-0 in June 2012 in a performance laden with confidence, to the hollow shell of the side which has shown up so far at the Confederations Cup.
Carlos Salcido spoke of players having “fear” after Mexico’s opener against Italy and he is right, but it stems from coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre.
Playing two defensive midfielders with a combined age of 67 against Brazil was always going to invite the Selecao onto Mexico early on and provide little support going forward for a team with only two out-and-out attacking players – Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos.
When an inspired Neymar smashed home an early goal, Mexico had nowhere to turn, other than to rely on a bright Dos Santos to produce attacking sparks.
It was a negative move to start the game and the mentality didn’t improve thereafter. Incredibly, a second striker was only introduced in the 87th minute in a game they had to win and in which Brazil’s defence had proved to be anything but solid.
Fans are now almost unanimous in their wish that the authoritarian 47-year-old Chepo is replaced as coach.
Names like Monterrey’s Victor Manuel Vucetich, Club America’s Miguel Herrera and even Argentine Marcelo Bielsa would all fit the bill if Chepo jumps or is booted out, but, in all probability, this won’t happen immediately off the back of Confederations Cup failure.
The Mexican football federation (FMF) has stood firmly behind Chepo, and the Olympic gold – coached by his assistant Luis Fernando Tena – has earned him a little more leeway compared to some of his predecessors such as Sven-Goran Eriksson.
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Chepo hasn’t trusted the Porto-bound duo of Diego Reyes and Hector Herrera, nor Raul Jimenez, Hiram Mier, Israel Jimenez, Marco Fabian and Jorge Enriquez. The Confeds was the perfect platform to blood some of these players to not only see if they are ready, but in order to begin the construction of a fresher, more attacking side. All were involved when Mexico defeated a comparable Brazil side in the Olympic final.
How much worse could the Confederations Cup campaign have been? And even if Mexico had been defeated 4-0 by Brazil without the older players, at least it would have served as a lesson for them ahead of next year’s main event.
At present, Chepo is putting a ceiling on Mexican ambition by sticking with the same old guard who have been to World Cups and failed to progress past the Round of 16.
Gerardo Torrado, Carlos Salcido and Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez have all been excellent servants for El Tri and there is an argument for them remaining in the squad to provide experience. But the Confederations Cup has highlighted that the veterans must not be key pillars anymore, and that young blood must be promoted if Mexico are to have any hope of impressing at next year's World Cup.