Mexico is returning to the World Cup for the fourth time in a row in an effort to snap a disappointing streak of last-sixteen exits.
Only Brazil, Germany, Italy, and Mexico’s group opponents Argentina have participated in more World Cups. Mexico will be playing in their 17th World Cup, and their elimination from the first round of play seems to be as inevitable as their qualification. In each of the previous seven competitions, they left after the round of 16 and returned home.
Gerardo Martino, a former manager of Argentina and Barcelona, is charged with guiding El Tri to that elusive quarterfinal in Qatar, but there is a perception among supporters that this team may not be as talented as their predecessors and that a group-stage exit may be more likely than the desired last-eight spot.
Mexico struggled to score goals, scoring just 17 in 14 qualifying matches, despite finishing second to Canada in CONCACAF qualifying. Presumptive starting striker Raul Jimenez of Wolves has also struggled with injuries over the past year, which hasn’t helped the situation. Hirving Lozano of Napoli will be counted on to provide the creative spark, and Argentina’s opening match against Poland on the third day of the World Cup may very well determine whether they advance to the knockout rounds. Argentina is predicted to win Group C, and Saudi Arabia is seen as the underdog.
Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa, Alfredo Talavera, Rodolfo Cota
Defenders: Jorge Sanchez, Jesus Gallardo, Kevin Alvarez, Gerardo Arteaga, Hector Moreno, Nestor Araujo, Cesar Montes, Johan Vasquez
Midfielders: Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, Edson Alvarez, Luis Chavez, Erick Gutierrez, Uriel Antuna, Orbelin Pineda, Carlos Rodriguez, Robert Alvarado, Luis Romo
Forwards: Raul Jimenez, Hirving Lozano, Alexis Vega, Henry Martin, Rogelio Funes Mori
Players to watch
Hirving Lozano: Since Javier Hernandez is no longer on the team, Mexico lacks a premier striker to serve as the team’s focal point, so the wingers are primarily responsible for their team’s creativity. Jesus Corona of Sevilla is likely to miss the World Cup due to a broken left fibula and damaged ankle ligaments, which puts additional pressure on Hirving Lozano of Napoli. Because of his propensity to hide under teammates’ beds and scare them during his youth team days, the 27-year-old is known as Chucky after the doll in the Child’s Play horror franchise. He has the speed and skill to put opposition defenders through fits. He frequently plays on the left as an inverted winger and is a right-footed playmaker who contributes to many goals by cutting in and shooting.
Alexis Vega: If Raul Jimenez’s injury problems and poor play persist, El Tri will need goals from other players. That might be accomplished through Lozano or through the wide areas, as with substitute center-forward Henry Martin. On the other flank could be Alexis Vega, a 24-year-old who has spent his entire professional career to date in his native country. Over the past 18 months, he has established himself as a regular player for the national team and added a few goals to his resume. It would be a stretch to say he could decide every game, but he has the skill and ability to attack the box very effectively if defenders are distracted by the bigger name on the other flank.
Mexico’s streak of progressing past the group stage in each of their last eight World Cup appearances is in real danger of coming to an end, but they can beat Poland in the pivotal Group C matchup, especially if they can contain Robert Lewandowski. While the wait for their first quarterfinal appearance since 1986 is likely to continue, their World Cup experience shouldn’t be understated. Let’s take the chance and predict that they’ll once more advance to the round of 16. defeated in the 16th round.