Injury cloud hanging over Mexico's World Cup send-off match

Juan Carlos Osorio Mexico
Hector Vivas
With Andres Guardado, Hector Moreno and Diego Reyes ruled out of Saturday's game, the mood may be more concerned than optimistic

Mexico fans will bid their team goodbye Saturday night at the Estadio Azteca, and they absolutely don't want to see Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes or Andres Guardado back in the country next week.

Injury concerns about the three players, who represent the player Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio has started most, fourth-most and fifth-most during his tenure, While the coach initially said Saturday would be the deadline and players who weren't in their best athletic shape would be trimmed from the World Cup roster, Osorio never was going to throw in the towel so soon on three of his most important players.

Between those three and center back Nestor Araujo, who will miss the tournament because of a knee injury, Osorio has as many as four players missing at the moment from the starting XI he was planning to play in El Tri's first match of the World Cup, a group game against Germany.

While Osorio said the players he would call on to replace those players would still carry out the style of play he has implemented since arriving as coach in 2015. However, there's no hiding the fact that El Tri would be a better team with those players in the lineup.

"If I’m honest, I have to say I have documents from April 6 and 7 where we basically already had a XI against Germany decided," he said at a news conference Friday. "With the injured players, there are four considerable absences. It’s changed, and changed a lot. Now, what is clear is that these days have been very productive for us.

"We’re continuing to work on the same principles of play, independent from who might be playing, who is going to be competing, the team has to perform like it did last game. It showed pressure in the attacking zone, the defensive line almost to midfield, immediate reactions when losing the ball. If the game is today obviously there are four different players and that’s because of being forced to make those changes."

The injuries put a serious cloud over what should be a joyous occasion. El Tri is at home against a Scotland side that has fewer caps combined than six individual Mexico players. Tickets are sold out, and the expectations are beginning to build as fans once again hope that their team will get out of the round of 16 for the first time on foreign soil. They may not even see off Mexico's best.

After injuries also derailed Mexico's Confederations Cup run, with Osorio losing Reyes and Carlos Salcedo during the tournament, the manager is wondering if the match is worth risking players like Hirving Lozano or Hector Herrera, who he knows are in form and couldn't afford to lose to injury.

"We're still thinking about who should play and for what reasons they should play tomorrow," Osorio said. "We resisted the temptation to put Hirving Lozano in against Wales and we're still debating about tomorrow. With him, I could name more, another is Hector Herrera. It's a very delicate theme, but the guys definitely will know before the game and I suppose the response should be very positive. If not, I'll take responsibility and take the necessary measures."

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What Osorio plans to do, exactly, if Moreno and Guardado don't recover isn't exactly clear. He's facing a June 4 deadline to announce his final 23-man squad. Though he's taking 25 players to Denmark for the friendly there, Moreno and Guardado are locks to be on his list should they be cleared by the medical department.

Moreno has been the most reliable player in the Osorio era and is not only Mexico's best defender but starts attacks from the back with his accurate passing. The fact that the left-footer can ping balls over the top for right wingers only adds to his value. Guardado can break up plays in the midfield or help join the attack. His experience is critical to the team. Reyes is versatile, able to play center back, defensive midfielder or right back.

It will still be a celebration at the Azteca and a joyous occasion. The absences left by those three players who are doing everything they can to et back to full fitness, though, will be glaring. Mexico hasn't even left home yet, and things already are looking bleak. A strong showing against Scotland would get the fans excited again, but far more exciting than a result Saturday would be seeing the injured trio on the field next week in Denmark, signaling that they'll be on the field again soon after in Moscow.