02:00 BST, Tuesday 29th May, Rose Bowl Stadium (California, USA)
Mexico have opted to focus their preparation for this summer’s World Cup on the UK. On Tuesday, in California, they meet Wales before playing Scotland next Sunday.
The aim, according to striker Oribe Peralta and defender Edson Alvarez, is to win the tournament. “We should dream,” Alvarez said on Friday. “[Winning the World Cup] is what the team is made for, but we’ll take it step by step, game by game.”
As always, there is expectation. Mexico have reached the knockout stages in each of the last six World Cups, but on each occasion they have fallen short of true success.
Having qualified comfortably in CONCACAF this time around and impressed along the way, there is hope that Mexico can reach the latter stages in Russia.
The game against Wales is likely to be used as a test for coach Juan Carlos Osorio. The fitness of several players remain in doubt just three weeks before Mexico’s World Cup campaign begins, and Osorio does not appear to be fully decided on his final squad.
Wales, meanwhile, are still recovering from the blow of missing out on a place in Russia. They will be without Gareth Bale in California, after the Real Madrid man’s efforts in the Champions League final on Saturday.
This will be another early marker for Giggs and his youthful squad. Many remain unconvinced by his appointment, and there is a feeling that Wales are now in a period of transition. Certainly, they will be the underdogs in front of 70,000 fans at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday.
Osorio has generally favoured a 4-3-3 system, although on occasion he has switched to a back three. Oswaldo Alanis, who may slot in on the left in the absence of Miguel Layun, will provide that option, although he has not entirely convinced supporters.
Centre back Nestor Araujo has been ruled out of the upcoming tournament with an injury and could be replaced by promising youngster Edson Alvarez against Wales. Osorio may also give opportunities to Jesus Molina and Jurgen Damm, both of whom will need to impress.
“For me it’s a juggling act between seeing players I’ve not seen, players who’ve been playing who are fit and players who have impressed me during training,” said Ryan Giggs ahead of the trip to California.
Starts for some of Wales’ younger players should be expected, then, as well as some of the more experienced heads.
Key Battle: Hirving Lozano (Mexico) vs Harry Wilson (Wales)
Much of the attention will be on two young wingers: Hirving Lozano of Mexico and Harry Wilson of Wales.
The former has excelled for PSV Eindhoven since arriving at the club last summer. He scored 17 goals and provided eight assists in 29 Eredivisie appearances as PSV secured the title.
Mexico will be hopeful for a continuation of his club form at international level. Their chances of success in the World Cup might depend upon it.
Wales, meanwhile, will have been encouraged by the performances of Wilson, on loan at Hull from Liverpool, this season.
In just 11 Championship starts, the 21-year-old scored seven goals and proved a constant threat for opposition defenders.
In the absence of Bale, he will need to be on his game against Mexico if Wales are to threaten.
Mexico have a squad of undoubted quality and a record of consistency in recent World Cups. There is, then, a level of expectation that might be difficult to meet.
Osorio and his players are not attempting to curb supporters’ enthusiasm either.
“To reach the semifinals is a very tough objective but I think we have the same right that everyone has to dream, and the same right that everyone has to think it’s an objective that can be achieved,” the coach told World Soccer. “Our plan has been in place since last November.”
Progressing from the group stages is likely to be the bare minimum. But it will not be easy: Germany, Sweden and South Korea will represent tough opposition and Mexico must avoid complacency. Their upcoming friendly against Wales might give an indication as to whether the level of expectation is, at this moment in time, too high.
Period of transition
Wales’ failure to qualify for the World Cup meant attention quickly turned towards the next European Championships. By then some of the stalwarts of Chris Coleman’s squads will be aging, replaced by an emerging generation of young talent.
They are likely to be on Giggs’ radar in California: Declan John, Tom Lockyer, Chris Mepham, Lee Evans, Ryan Hedges, Tom Lawrence, Harry Wilson and David Brooks are all aged 23 or under, and all will want to impress if they are handed an opportunity against Mexico.
Prediction: Mexico 2-0 Wales
Wales without Bale are a different proposition, so Mexico should be confident of victory.
It will not be easy, of course, and friendlies can often mean erratic, unpredictable performances. But Mexico’s superior quality across the pitch, and the advantage of a big home crowd, should tell in the end.
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