One year ago, few would’ve risked putting money on Christian Gimenez, Damian Alvarez and Fernando Arce appearing together in a full Mexico squad; even less so for two vital World Cup qualifying games.
But Mexico’s annus horribilis of false dawns, patchy form and failure to produce has driven Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre to look for consistent players he can trust and who have proved their level week in, week out in Mexico’s first division for season after season.
The only player whose absence really stands out – leaving Carlos Vela and Guillermo Ochoa out of this for now – is America’s Miguel Layun, who can perhaps count himself slightly unlucky to miss out after a good Gold Cup, but he would’ve been even further away than Gimenez, Alvarez and Arce one year ago.
The real shock news came last week when Ochoa’s name was missing from the list of foreign-based players in the Mexico squad.
Toluca’s Alfredo Talavera and Monterrey’s Jonathan Orozco are the back up if Cruz Azul’s Jesus Corona gets injured.
In front of Corona, everything suggests that El Tri will be repeating a similar line-up and 4-3-3 formation as that of the 4-1 victory last time out against Ivory Coast – by far Mexico’s best performance of 2013.
Severo Meza is in line to start at right back after impressing against Ivory Coast and having been consistent for El Tri, if not brilliant. Hiram Mier featured there in the Confederations Cup, but Meza seems to have done enough to get the nod against Honduras.
In the other full back position, it’s a straight battle on the left between Tigres duo Jorge Torres Nilo and Carlos Salcido.
In between, Espanyol’s Hector Moreno is a certain starter, but alongside him the battle is on between Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez and Porto’s Diego Reyes.
With the high stakes and pressure on, plus the fact Reyes has only featured this season for Porto B, it would be no surprise if the more experienced Rodriguez claimed both the start and the captain’s armband.
It was in midfield that Mexico really got it together against Ivory Coast and Chepo’s preference of fielding one ultra-defensive midfielder means Gerardo Torrado is likely to feature in front of the back four.
Further forward, Arce surely did enough in the recent friendly, even if Hector Herrera is in the squad for the first time as a Europe-based player and Jesus Zavala has long been a favorite of Chepo’s.
In the attacking midfield role, Gimenez adds the threat of long shots and creativity, plus the nous and the tactical awareness to retreat when Mexico don’t have the ball. The other option, especially for the home game against Honduras, would be to play Giovani Dos Santos in a central role off the main striker.
Out on the right wing, the obvious option is Dos Santos, presuming Gimenez plays the central role. If Dos Santos is down the middle, Angel Reyna or Javier Aquino could come into play on the right
What Chepo does on the left flank should be fascinating, with Andres Guardado’s hold on the position slightly looser than in the past and Reyna eying his place after starting the Liga MX season in fine form with Veracruz.
The central striker’s position was once the undisputed domain of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, but it would be a shock if the Manchester United man started either of the two qualifiers, considering his last competitive game was back on June 22 and he has been hampered by a hamstring injury.
In will surely step Olympic gold medal winner Oribe Peralta, who has nudged his way in front of Raul Jimenez due to his performance against Ivory Coast and recent form with Santos Laguna.
Four points must be the objective from the two games, but that will necessarily mean a radically improved performance from the turgid Mexico we have seen so far in World Cup qualifying.
Full Mexico squad:
Goalkeepers: Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Jonathan Orozco (Monterrey)
Defenders: Severo Meza (Monterrey), Hiram Mier (Monterrey), Francisco Rodriguez (America), Diego Reyes (Porto), Hector Moreno (Espanyol), Carlos Salcido (Tigres), Jorge Torres Nilo (Tigres)
Midfielders: Jesus Zavala (Monterrey), Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul), Hector Herrera (Porto), Christian Gimenez (Cruz Azul), Fernando Arce (Tijuana), Andres Guardado (Valencia)
Forwards: Giovani Dos Santos (Villarreal), Javier Aquino (Villarreal), Angel Reyna (Veracruz), Damian Alvarez (Tigres), Oribe Peralta (Santos), Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), Raul Jimenez (America)
Possible starting XI (4-3-3): Corona; Meza, Rodriguez, Moreno, Torres Nilo; Torrado, Arce, Gimenez; Dos Santos, Guardado, Peralta