With qualification already clinched, El Tri now is setting their eyes on topping the table and going down as the best Hex team in history
SAN LUIS POTOSI, Mexico — Even if it feels like Mexico has done everything it can this World Cup qualification cycle, El Tri still are on the verge of history.
A spot has been clinched at the 2018 World Cup, and Mexico sits atop the Hex. But Friday's game against Trinidad and Tobago and Tuesday's finale against Honduras still mean something for Mexico. Two wins would put Osorio's men at 24 points and break Costa Rica's record of 23 during the 1998 cycle. Four points would yield 22 during the round and match Mexico's highest-ever Hex total, achieved during qualification for the 2006 World Cup.
Mexico is going all-out to reach those two milestones.
"We’re not trying to equal or break records, but we’re trying to do things for ourselves, achieve our goals and write our own story," midfielder Hector Herrera said in Thursday's news conference. "Thanks to our work and the good union there is in the team, I think we’re on a good path. There are things to work on, but that’s part of a team."
OK, maybe they're not admitting it, but even the fact that Herrera was sitting in San Luis Potosi puts Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio's ambition on display.
The coach said Thursday he's going to be working mostly with a group of 35 players over the next 10 months as the World Cup approaches. There's no doubt getting to Russia with the most cohesive unit possible is part of the reason he brought in Herrera and other Europe-based players for games that should be academic for El Tri.
There also is another reason. Even with Trinidad and Tobago packing it in on the opposite end of the table, calling in a young group to build toward 2022, these points could mean something for Mexico.
"There’s the great chance to finish first in the final Hexagonal and complete this qualification cycle in a healthy way like we always talk about," Osorio said. "Our goal, as it’s been during this work, always is to get at least four points of the six possible. We’re going to try to make it six. The plan this week has been very positive for the group."
Part of the week, Osorio continued, has been meetings, putting players into groups and highlighting things the coaching staff wants them to polish or add prior to the summer of 2018. The other part has been dedicated to getting ready for the Soca Warriors.
This goes beyond the normal, and understandable, desire to win every game. Setting a Hex record would give Osorio something to point at as a concrete achievement during his tenure with Mexico. While the coach says he ignores the frequent criticism that targets him in the Mexican press, he also is always prepared to give a defense. Thursday he mentioned the injuries to Diego Reyes and Carlos Salcedo as factors in elimination in the Confederations Cup semifinals.
What better defense is there ahead of the World Cup than pointing out you were the best-ever team in qualification? Mexico's target has reached, but El Tri is simultaneously pushing for more.
"The most important is that we achieved our group objective, to give Mexico, as a footballing country, an early, healthy qualification with three games left. In the next, drawing with an opponent like Costa Rica," the coach said. "The national team really is being competitive playing away as well as playing at home. That’s more important than other statistics.
"The most important for us is the knowledge that Mexico has a good present, a good present with this group of players, that Hector (Herrera) belongs to, Hector Moreno, Andres, Javier, etc. etc. and we’ve taken on this responsibility to hopefully consolidate the group with some who have a great future."
However, it's still too soon to fully look into the future. Mexico has two more qualifiers left, and it intends to use them to make history.