Some of El Tri’s biggest stars over the past decade were on the wrong side of 30, like Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Andres Guardado, Hector Moreno and of course, Rafa Marquez.
After yet another round-of-16 defeat, there is a new generation of Mexican talent looking to make their mark now, and hopefully break the curse of the “quinto partido” in 2022.
On Thursday, El Tri fans got a glimpse of that young crop of talent in a 3-2 friendly win against Costa Rica, and saw some of the natural ups and downs that come along with bedding in a group mostly unfamiliar to the international level.
Though El Tri named seven Europe-based players to the roster, interim manager Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti opted to name a starting lineup made up entirely of players based in Liga MX. It was a young lineup as well, with an average age of 23 and four 20-year-olds in the group that started at the Estadio Universitario.
Some of Mexico's inexperience showed in the first half, particularly from the two 20-year-olds starting in defense: Gerardo Arteaga and Jesus Angulo.
Arteaga was beaten too easily by Joel Campbell for Costa Rica’s opener, as the attacker got in front of the Santos defender to nod home. Later in the half, Angulo got caught trying to dribble out of the back, and his turnover started a sequence that led to Mexico conceding a penalty kick, which Bryan Ruiz converted.
Goalkeeper Gibran Lajud, making his Mexico debut, also had a pair of shaky moments that almost cost his side a goal before he was replaced at halftime by Raul Gudino.
There were also bright spots from the young El Tri contingent, who saw a few players boost their stock. Angel Zaldivar nearly scored off a header that was well saved by Keylor Navas, before he was involved in the build-up to a truly special goal from Victor Guzman.
Big things are expected from Guzman, and he showed exactly why when he volleyed home a tremendously controlled sidefooted finish into the upper corner off a cross from Josecarlos Van Rankin, who was the other debutant on the night along with Lajud.
Guzman, along with his club teammate Erick Aguirre, showed well in the middle of the field and gave El Tri fans a glimpse of what the future could look like. Meanwhile, Arteaga and Angulo settled in more as the game went on and Edson Alvarez – the only starter who played at the most recent World Cup – put in another solid showing in defense that belied his age of just 20.
Though several young players impressed, it was a group of Mexico’s more experienced players who came in and took center stage in the second half, and helped El Tri turn a one-goal deficit into a 3-2 victory.
Jurgen Damm, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, and goal-scorers Raul Jimenez and Henry Martin helped turn the tide in Mexico’s favor, helping El Tri avoid a five-game losing streak and giving the team its first win since a victory over South Korea in the World Cup group stage.
That World Cup, of course, ultimately ended with consecutive defeats to Sweden and then Brazil, sealing yet another last-16 exit. As El Tri begin the long road through another qualifying cycle, several of Thursday night’s stars appear set to play a major role as the team looks towards Qatar in 2022.