Less than 12 months ago, Mexico won the Olympic gold medal in soccer for the first time in its history. It was the dawn of a new generation of Mexican players who conquered a very strong Brazil and were ready to step up on the international stage.
On Sunday, only Javier Aquino of the eight U-23 players who started the final in Wembley was in Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre’s starting XI against Italy in the Maracana.
The continuance of Mexico’s poor form into the Confederations Cup may be the signal that now is the time to throw in the younger players like Diego Reyes, Hiram Mier, Jorge Torres Nilo and Hector Herrera to help them gain the experience of top-level competition. Let them either sink or swim.
Of course, it is easier to come to that conclusion after Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Italy, when the veteran players had poor nights.
Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez had what can legitimately be described as a nightmare. Inside the first 15 minutes, he’d twice given away the ball needlessly inside his own half and handed Italy decent chances to score. It was far from the authoritative, calming performance you’d expect from a player that has graced the Eredivisie and Bundesliga and wears the captain’s armband for his national team. He was also responsible for Italy’s winner, when Mario Balotelli too easily got the better of him.
De la Torre declared postgame that the mistake cost Mexico the match.
Reyes has played alongside Rodriguez for Club America and has proved he is worthy of a shot at usurping Maza for El Tri. The 20-year-old is going to be playing for Porto next season and has all the attributes to be the next Rafael Marquez, with his reading of the game, passing and tackling.
The case against Reyes is his skinny physique and lack of experience at the top level, but playing against Balotelli or on Wednesday against the trio of Neymar, Hulk and Fred is exactly what De la Torre needs to see to find out where he is at in his development.
Over at left back, Salcido looked slow on occasions against Italy and the fact he’s not playing regular in that position for Tigres could be problematic to him being Mexico’s left back at the World Cup – assuming Mexico makes it.
Tigres teammate Torres Nilo is ripe to slot in and needs experience of international competition, after only becoming Mexico’s left back after the last World Cup.
In midfield, there was a lack of invention against Italy. Obviously, the plan was to use Gerardo Torrado to try to nullify Pirlo et al, but with a result a must against Brazil if it is to have any pretensions of reaching the semifinals, Herrera is a better option.
The 23-year-old is set to sign for Porto this week and – although he hasn’t excelled as yet at full international level – needs a chance in a pressure environment. There is a reason the Portuguese champion is willing to splash out a reported 10 million euros.
Finally, right back is has been a problem since before the last World Cup. Gerardo Flores is giving some brave performances at present, but Mier is a class act, as he proved for Mexico in the Olympics and for Monterrey in the Club World Cup. A natural center back, Mier has excelled when asked to slot in at right back and could be the long-term solution.
In sum, De la Torre has little to lose by giving the youngsters a shot to prove themselves against the mighty Brazil in Fortaleza on Wednesday.
After all, the Mexico coach is in need of a spark from somewhere and his grip on the job is starting to loosen.