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Mexico stays calm and five thoughts from El Tri's Confederations Cup group stage

18:29 BST 26/06/2017
Chicharito Hirving Lozano Andres Guardado Javier Aquino Mexico
After getting through the first three matches undefeated, Juan Carlos Osorio's Mexican national team side needs just two more wins to lift the trophy

Mexico traveled to Sochi on Monday getting set for Thursday's Confederations Cup semifinal against Germany

Confederations Cup semifinals set

El Tri coach Juan Carlos Osorio will welcome the added time between games to finalize his tactical plan but also to let his players get some rest and, he hopes, see one or two fully recover from the injuries they're carrying after the group stage.

Overall, despite the knocks, it was a positive first three games for Mexico in Russia. Let's take a look at five things that stand out:


Mexico staying calm in comebacks


Mexico has been historically good at coming from behind in Russia. Whether it was Hector Moreno's late equalizer against Portugal, a big comeback to top Russia or Hirving Lozano's brave header against the host nation, the team has shown an inclination to make its fans sweat. Not since the 1998 World Cup has a team conceded first in all three of its group games and avoided defeat at all three. That team also was Mexico, which got out of its group with the Netherlands, South Korea and Belgium nearly two decades ago.

Why is this happening? In general, El Tri are falling behind because of defensive lapses and a lack of finishing (or good goalkeeping from the opposition). They are then able to come back by tightening up at the back, keeping more of the ball and converting more chances. While the team can take heart in its zealous comebacks, it's also a better idea to not be losing in the first place. But even stretching back to the World Cup qualifier with the United States, something hasn't been going exactly right in the opening half-hour of games for Mexico.

"What's happening to us in the first halves is a problem. It's causing us to work to get into the game and, as a consequence, we're struggling at the start," defender Nestor Araujo said. "But you also have to give us credit. We've had four games in which we've come from behind. It's a question of mentality."

There's also something to be said for players understanding their roles in the system they're being asked to play as the match goes on. The fact that the players are keeping their heads, avoiding panic and continuing to work on executing the idea the coaching staff has to approach the game is good. This is Mexico's top team, and the experience the players have both in a national team shirt and at the club level is showing through.


Back line the biggest concern


There is no doubt that the defense has been the biggest issue for Mexico in the first three group games. That's not an enormous surprise. Osorio's squad for the competition had just two traditional outside backs, both of whom play on the left. Injuries haven't helped, with Diego Reyes staying out of training Monday and becoming the latest worry after Carlos Salcedo's tournament ended with a shoulder injury and Hector Moreno tweaked but ultimately played on a left ankle at less than 100 percent.

Without Rafa Marquez — who seems fit to play as he did against New Zealand but probably not deal with the pressures of an international tournament or maybe even go a full 90 minutes after his March back surgery — playing a three-man back line with a stopper in front of them as Osorio did against the All Whites may be too tasking on El Tri, especially without Moreno.

"Unfortunately it looks like Diego Reyes had a hamstring problem. We'd thought about it because he'd come in playing all the previous games, like a lot of the guys, that's why we rotated, made various rotations, the day of the game against New Zealand," Osorio said. "Unfortunately, we lost Carlos Salcedo and today Diego started again. We had planned to give him rest or at least not start with him."

Now the plans are sort of out the window. We know Moreno can be relied upon but while Nestor Araujo and Diego Reyes are showing progress, both still struggle from the odd mental lapse or miscommunication. Those errors get wiped away over a long club season or in CONCACAF qualification when teams may not have the quality to punish them. They get magnified against Germany, even an alternate Germany side.

It's always fascinating to see what Osorio attempts to do with his defense but with so many injury concerns it will be very interesting to see if he is able to align the defenders in a system in which they can succeed. 


Vela could be set for more


Carlos Vela may have been the player in the best form for Mexico entering the tournament, scoring against the United States in the final match before the trip to Russia and enjoying sustained success at the international and club level for perhaps the first time in his career. His game against Portugal was a good one, making dangerous runs and finding plenty of space to work in on the right-hand side of Mexico's attack. But he was rotated out of the lineup against New Zealand and lacked the same crispness he had against Portugal in Saturday's group finale.

Osorio took him off after the first 45 minutes, but it seems like the Real Sociedad attacker will be back on the right side of the attack against Germany. With the confidence and run of good form Vela entered the tournament in, he could be the key to unlocking a German defense whether with a shot or setting up Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez in the center. Vela had a quiet day this weekend, but it won't be the last we've heard from him.


Tournament taking a team effort


While there's still room to criticize Osorio's squad selections (Why is there no central midfielder or true right back in the team? Or Jesus Duenas, who is both?) and wonder about the heavy rotations (as we did after the New Zealand game), getting out of the group stage was a total team effort.

After Hirving Lozano started and Luis Reyes entered as a substitute against Russia, third goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota is the only player on the 23-man squad who has not seen minutes in the first three games. Don't look for the Chivas shot-stopper to make a surprise start in the knockout round (though if Mexico's in a third-place game, who knows?), but otherwise it has taken a village for Mexico to extend its tournament.

Against Portugal the players in the best form were the heroes, with Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Hector Moreno and Guillermo Ochoa making the difference. In game two it was Javier Aquino flashing his improved form on the international level and Hector Herrea's passing, which continued into the third game and brought rising star Hirvng Lozano to the fore.

Chicharito trains apart from team Monday

With Chicharito among the players feeling the effects of a long season and the defensive concerns mentioned above, Mexico will need players who are not on the marketing materials to continue popping up and helping the team if they're going to get over the line.


Osorio changing opinions?


If you're reading this column and have read it this far, you know how it is in Mexico. The manager is always on the hot seat, even more so when it's someone like Osorio who has unique ideas and a different way of doing things than anyone who has been in charge of the Mexican national team for at least a decade.

The critics have come for Osorio, and they've absolutely had their knives out during this tournament. And, as critics often do, they've had reason on their side on occasion. Generally, though, the criticism and negative thinking around the national team doesn't serve for much aside from stressing out those involved. 

Some media outlets, especially the millennial-driven digital ones, are starting to take a different tone. Invictos pointed out that those who would shrug off a Confederations Cup win as irrelevant are the same who would call for Osorio's head should Mexico lose to Germany, while Sopitas published a satirical article running down Osorio's accomplishments and pointing to them as the reasons the coach MUST go.

Osorio has been apathetic to the criticism, or at least indifferent, but it wouldn't hurt to have a bit more of a positive vibe around the coach and his players. Miguel Layun, who turned 29 yesterday, was once criticized as the reason for Club America's failures and now is hailed as one of the country's best players. There will always be skepticism and sniping about the Colombian coach, but it seems the tide may be changing, at least in some communities.