World Cup 2018: Mexico Preview
Mexico have fallen at the Round of 16 for the last six World Cups in a row. Can they break the habit and take their team to the next level in Russia?
Russia 2018 will be Mexico’s 16th appearance at the World Cup finals but, for a team that is such a mainstay, they have a very disappointing record.
In that time, the Central American side has never reached the semi-final of the competition and only made the quarter-final twice: in 1970 and 1986 – the two years they hosted.
Since 1994, Mexico have been knocked out at the Round of 16 stage in every single World Cup, totalling six in a row.
This year, fans of El Tri will hope they break this habit and reach the latter stages of the tournament. Their draw is not simple but the Mexican fans expect their team to qualify from a group containing Germany, Sweden and South Korea.
Road to Russia
Mexico had a relatively straightforward route to the World Cup, as they often do in the CONCACAF region. The headlines in North and Central America were saved for the USA who failed to qualify for the first time since 1986.
Being among the higher ranked teams in the region, Mexico bypassed the first three qualifying rounds. In the fourth round, teams in CONCACAF need to finish in the top two in a group of four to advance; Mexico won their group undefeated, failing to win only one of their fixtures.
Then came the fifth and final round, a larger group containing the teams who advanced from before. Once again Mexico made light work of the competition, winning the group with three games to spare.
The Mexicans qualified as early as September 2017 when they defeated Panama 1-0, such was their domination of the group. After they achieved their objective, Osorio’s men took the foot off the gas and only took four points from their last three games, finishing with 21 points from a possible 30 overall.
Coach Juan Carlos Osorio has typically used one of two formations: 4-4-2 and 4-3-3.
In goal, Guillermo Ochoa will start. He made a name for himself in the last World Cup where he was one of Mexico’s best players.
The defensive pairing of Hector Moreno and Diego Reyes have both suffered from injuries this year but, if fit, should occupy the centre half spots.
Carlos Salcedo also spent a part of the season in the medical room but was back in action for Eintracht Frankfurt before the end of the domestic campaign so should be fit. The left full back position will fall to Miguel Layun.
If Osorio goes with 4-3-3, his midfield will contain captain Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera, who have both had fantastic seasons in Europe.
The third midfielder is less certain. Rafael Marquez, at 38 years old, will take part in his record-equalling fifth World Cup and is an option in defensive midfield.
Alternatively, Guardado and Herrera could sit a little deeper to fit Marco Fabian into the team. Given he will push further on, the former two will need to be more disciplined than usual.
In attack, Hirving Lozano and Carlos Vela are likely to occupy the wide positions as both come off the back of successful campaigns. Vela has shown a new lease of life since moving to the MLS in 2018.
The central position is still uncertain. Javier Hernandez is a possibility but Raul Jimenez looks more likely to get the nod due to more time on the pitch in recent friendlies. Oribe Peralta is also waiting in the wings should the other two falter.
Mexico’s bench is really packed with talent as the Dos Santos brothers, Jesus Corona and others will have to settle for substitute appearances.
Key Player: Hirving Lozano
Hirving Lozano has been the standout player of the Eredivisie for 2017/18. He helped PSV Eindhoven secure the title as their top scorer with 17 goals and eight assists.
It was only his first season in the Netherlands but the former Pachuca man settled in quickly and is now being under the eye of larger European sides.
At the age of just 22, Lozano already has 25 appearances for the national team and scored seven goals, an impressive return given he plays as a winger. Notably, six of his seven goals for Mexico came in 2017, leaving him in great form ahead of Russia.
Lozano typically plays on the left wing despite being right footed. This means that his primary plan is to cut inside onto his stronger foot to cross or shoot.
He is also a very pacy winger, complementing his tendency to dribble with the ball. Partnered with the equally rapid Javier Hernandez, the Mexico attack is very potent.
He may have a lot of pressure on him, but with good reason. Lozano is already a key player for Mexico and is expected to be one of the breakout stars in Russia this summer.
Group F: Germany, South Korea, Sweden
The world champions await Mexico for their first fixture in Russia. Germany will take on El Tri on 17th June.
Next up is the “easy” fixture of the group as the lowest ranked team of the group, South Korea, attempt to topple Mexico.
Mexico’s crunch match is saved until last, as they face off against Sweden, who qualified through the European knockout round at the expense of Italy. Germany are understandably the favourites to progress from the group, and so the fight for second place falls to these two.
The bookmakers favour Mexico only slightly over the Swedes, so it could make for an enthralling final fixture of Group F.
Prediction: Round of 16 exit
Sweden will be a tough task for El Tri but, with the talent they have on offer, it should result in a victory for Mexico. However, Mexico may well continue their trend of crashing out of the World Cup at the Round of 16.
They are not likely to pip the Germans to first place in the group and finishing second behind them means they will most likely play against favourites Brazil if all goes to plan in Group E.
Barring a major upset against the Brazilians, Mexico’s poor record on the biggest stage of all will continue.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss the potential winners of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast