Confederations Cup chance for Osorio to win respect in Mexico

Yuri Cortez
Despite only losing twice, the Mexico boss is still a divisive figure. A good showing in Russia could change all that for the Colombian coach

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio is not the most beloved man in Mexico.

Before and after every game in the North American country obsessed with debating the sport and the issues around it, many fans and commentators find fault with the Colombian's decisions. That scene is familiar enough around the world, but the fact that Osorio has won the majority of his matches since taking over in fall 2015 and has lost just twice - one an embarrassing 7-0 defeat to Chile in the Copa America Centenario and the other a friendly in late May against Croatia that El Tri quickly shrugged off - creates a scene that is puzzling to many outside observers.

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He's alienated those critics with his ideas. His rotation policy that flies in the face of finding a Best XI and sticking to that group has frustrated plenty of Mexicans and those who follow the team. Earlier this week Mexico legend Hugo Sanchez, who coached the national team for two years and amassed a 50 percent win rate, said that Mexico had the talent to win the World Cup were he the coach but couldn't do it under Osorio.

Now, with El Tri finding positive results in World Cup qualification and generally able to see off challengers in friendly games, the critics have launched a different kind of attack. Sure, they say, Osorio is winning games, but he's doing it only against CONCACAF competition.

"We deeply respect all opponents," Osorio said when speaking of his preparation for Mexico's World Cup qualifier last week against Honduras (though he says something to that effect ahead of every game), which the team went on to win 3-0. And Osorio is only able to play the teams in front of him in official competitions.

Juan Carlos Osorio Mexico

The Confederations Cup provides him an opportunity to face off with stronger teams. In many ways, it's the first time Osorio will have put his methods to the test against top sides from outside the region. While games against Uruguay (an unmitigated success) and Chile (an unmitigated disaster) in the Copa America Centenario saw Mexico play teams with a better reputation, generally the critics have a point in that Mexico hasn't met difficult competition in the Osorio era.

Mexico's group isn't filled with prestigious names, either, but Portugal is the champion of Europe while Russia will obviously be at the World Cup next year when it hosts the tournament. Should Mexico get out of the group, a rematch with Chile or a contest with reigning world champion Germany could await.

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"These are opponents we'd like to face," goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa said. "Of course as a soccer player you're always looking to have this type of clash every weekend with your clubs, but now with the national team having the chance to do it in official competition is great and we have to take advantage of it. The Confederations Cup is an important tournament for Mexico, ahead of the World Cup, and we're here to try and win it."

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There is a segment of the Mexican fan base that never will accept Osorio, or at least not unless he takes Mexico to heights it has never achieved at the World Cup. The coach, to his credit, seems totally unperturbed by that group of fans and press. But his life could be a lot easier and his job much more secure if his methods of intense individual preparation and rotating players based on opposition's style of play pay off for him in Russia. 

"It's an extraordinary opportunity to compete against the current champion of Europe and against one of the best players on the planet," Osorio said of Sunday's opener against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. "I think that it's an extraordinary opportunity for Mexican soccer."

And also one for Osorio himself.