El Tri players are under no illusions about the huge importance of their upcoming match with the Catrachos.
It seems unthinkable that a team that was expected to bulldoze its way past CONCACAF all-comers would be in this position and still more inconceivable that El Tri won’t make the World Cup. Yet failure to win against Honduras or the United States will means that Panama and/or Los Catrachos could be on a plane south next summer in Mexico’s place.
The players are well aware of the task ahead and it is no surprise that Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre has opted for experience. The average age of the 23-man squad is 27.5, with eight players 30 or over and just six under 25.
Club Tijuana’s 33-year-old Fernando Arce is back in line for a start in a competitive match for Mexico for the first time in over four years and is aware of the importance of winning on Friday for both himself and the team.
“It will be the most important (match) of our careers and the one that will have the greatest impact for Mexico,” Arce told Central Deportiva on Monday. “I hope everyone thinks the same.”
He added: “All of us that have been called up feel part of a team that, little by little, is improving.”
Another likely starter is 32-year-old Christian Gimenez, who will make his competitive debut for El Tri. The Cruz Azul playmaker has years of success and consistency in the Liga MX that Chepo is looking to harness at national team level.
The experienced Argentina-born player is certainly talking the talk ahead of Friday’s game
“I’m calm,” he told press on Tuesday. “Since they called me up the first time, I’m thinking about responsibility, commitment, calmness. There are reasons they called me up and I have to show that on the pitch.”
Center back Hector Moreno is looking at the positives, pointing to the away trip to Honduras in March and Mexico playing well and dominating at 2-0, before giving away two late goals.
“The memory is fresh and it was a game we dominated aside from two circumstances – the penalty and set piece – but the atmosphere and climate was hostile, it was all against us and we confronted it with character,” said Moreno Tuesday in the mixed zone after training.
The problem is that El Tri’s away form – one win and two ties – has been acceptable, if not sparkling. The real difficulty has been scoring and winning inside the Estadio Azteca.
Far from the impregnable fortress of yesteryear, the resounding sentiment of teams coming to the famous venue of the 1970 and 1986 World Cup finals is that they can grind Mexico down with defensive tactics. El Tri hasn’t score in three home qualifiers this year – against Jamaica, the United States and Costa Rica, with all three employing similar tactics.
All the talk from the Honduras camp coming into Friday’s game is of getting what would a vital point for the Central American national in its quest to make Brazil.
“This game against Mexico could be an important marker for the rest of the qualifiers,” Honduras midfielder Boniek Garcia told Record. “Not losing will be important.”
The big question is whether Mexico’s experienced players and more pertinently coach De la Torre can find the key to unlock a likely loaded defense.