El Tri’s goals for 2013 were outlined in a press conference at the start of the year. Reaching the Confederations Cup semifinal was the first, along with qualifying for the World Cup and winning the Gold Cup.
With six months of the year almost gone, the first of those targets has passed El Tri by, while World Cup qualification is anything but secure.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the team's Confederations Cup failure is that Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre’s side not only lost against Italy and Brazil, but didn’t really put up a fight. Redemption of a kind came in the 2-1 victory against a good Japan side, even if the fact neither team could qualify for the semis did take the edge off.
What follows are the positives and negatives from Mexico in the Confederations Cup as a whole and where the campaign leaves De la Torre.
While the net bottom line has to be negative over the three games, there were reasons to have some hope for the upcoming qualifying games.
After another slow start, Mexico finally slotted into gear in the final game against Japan and showed glimpses of the fluid offense that De la Torre’s side is capable of. The attitude and urgency increased in the last game and the improved link-up play in the final third brought Mexico’s star player Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez into the reckoning in the final third. He rarely fails to disappoint when provided with chances.
On an individual level, Jesus Corona was a positive in goal for the first two matches, but the goalkeeping debate remains wide open with Guillermo Ochoa looking accomplished when he got an opportunity against Japan. Either way, the tournament was confirmation that Mexico is loaded in the goalkeeping position.
In defense, Diego Reyes was excellent in the final game, pushing his claim to become the starter in place of Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez. Jorge Torres Nilo also took his opportunity when he retook the left back position from Carlos Salcido for the final two matches.
At right back, Hiram Mier was given his chance and while he struggled in the first half of the Brazil game against Neymar, the Monterrey player looked good going forward and – considering his proven character – has shunted himself to the front of the line.
Mexico’s player of the tournament, however, was Giovani Dos Santos. The former Tottenham Hotspur player looked dangerous in each of the three games and will have done no harm to his chances of signing for a big club.
Formation wise, playing Dos Santos on the right with two attacking players down the center – as Chepo did against Japan - seems to be the answer to the problem of the right wing position, which both Javier Aquino and Pablo Barrera have failed to lock down, despite being handed opportunities.
With one year to go before the main event, the differences in Chepo’s Confederations Cup lineups for each game showed just exactly how many positions are still up for grabs. The way Mexico's coach keeps switching and changing in certain areas reflects the doubts that still reigns.
Left back, right back, center midfield, right wing and the second striker are all positions that need to be resolved. The most worrying thing is that it is because players haven’t stepped up, rather than the sheer amount of talent pushing for places.
It has become increasingly clear that De la Torre prefers playing with two defensive midfielders. Against Brazil, Italy and Japan, the tactic invited the opposition to pile on pressure early in the games and contributed, at least in part, to Mexico’s lack of creativity going forward.
The role of the experienced players was also put into focus, with Gerardo Torrado, Carlos Salcido and Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez all having poor tournaments.
The trio was charged with providing know-how, calmness and leadership, but at times they looked more like liabilities, stopping some of the younger players from gaining valuable experience.
How to make better use of the experienced players moving forward is something the Mexico coaching staff still needs to address.
In the final analysis, the Confederations Cup did not relieve the Mexico coach from the pressure he is under in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
The Mexico manager was criticized in the Mexican press all tournament, for his conservative approach to substitutions, tactics, and refusal to throw in younger players like Reyes and Raul Jimenez for the big games.
His outlook on the game is unlikely to change, but the negative performances and results need to. The qualifiers in the Estadio Azteca against Honduras on Sept. 5 and in the United States on Sept. 9 will be make or break time for De la Torre’s spell in charge.