Sign up to Miguel Delaney’s Reading the Game newsletter sent straight to your inbox for free
Sign up to Miguel’s Delaney’s free weekly newsletter
This will be Mexico’s 17th appearance at the World Cup – only Brazil, Germany, Italy and Group C opponents Argentina have appeared in more editions of the tournament – and the inevitability of their qualification is seemingly only matched by that of their defeat at the first knockout stage. They have headed home at the last-16 stage in each of the last seven tournaments.
Former Barcelona and Argentina manager Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino is the man tasked with leading El Tri to that elusive quarter-final in Qatar but there is a feeling among fans that this squad may lack the quality of their predecessors and that a group-stage exit could be more likely than a coveted last-eight berth.
A lack of goals plagued Mexico – they scored just 17 in 14 qualifiers – despite a relatively straightforward passage to Qatar as runners-up behind Canada in CONCACAF qualifying and a combination of injuries and lack of form over the past 12 months for presumptive starting striker Raul Jimenez of Wolves hasn’t helped matters. The likes of Napoli’s Hirving Lozano will be relied upon to provide the creative spark and qualification for the knockouts may well come down to their opening game against Poland on the third day of the World Cup, with Argentina expected to win Group C and Saudi Arabia pegged as the whipping boys.
Here is everything you need to know:
Group fixtures (all times GMT)
Tuesday 22 November: Mexico vs Poland – 16:00
Saturday 26 November: Argentina vs Mexico – 19:00
Wednesday 30 November: Saudi Arabia vs Mexico – 19:00
Mexico will try to secure that elusive quarter-final spot
(AFP via Getty Images)
Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (Club America), Alfredo Talavera (FC Juarez), Rodolfo Cota (Leon)
Defenders: Jorge Sanchez (Ajax), Jesus Gallardo (Monterrey), Kevin Alvarez (Pachuca), Gerardo Arteaga (Genk), Hector Moreno (Monterrey), Nestor Araujo (Club America), Cesar Montes (Monterrey), Johan Vasquez (Cremonese)
Midfielders: Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Hector Herrera (Houston Dynamo), Edson Alvarez (Ajax), Luis Chavez (Pachuca), Erick Gutierrez (PSV Eindhoven), Uriel Antuna (Cruz Azul), Orbelin Pineda (AEK Athens), Carlos Rodriguez (Cruz Azul), Robert Alvarado (Guadalajara), Luis Romo (Monterrey)
Forwards: Raul Jimenez (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Hirving Lozano (Napoli), Alexis Vega (Chivas), Henry Martin (Club America), Rogelio Funes Mori (Monterrey)
Ones to watch
Star – Hirving Lozano: With Javier Hernandez on the outs, Mexico don’t have a world-class striker to be the focal point of this team, which means most of their creativity comes from the wingers. Sevilla’s Jesus ‘Tecatito’ Corona looks set to miss the World Cup with a broken left fibula and ankle ligament damage, meaning Napoli’s Hirving Lozano has extra pressure on his shoulders. The 27-year-old – nicknamed ‘Chucky’ after the doll in the Child’s Play horror franchise due to his propensity to hide under teammates’ beds and scare them during his youth team day – has the speed and skill to cause opposition defenders fits. As a right-footed playmaker often deployed on the left as an inverted winger, he provides plenty of goal involvements by cutting in and shooting.
Hirving Lozano holds the keys for Mexico
Breakout talent – Alexis Vega: If Raul Jimenez’s injury woes and lack of form continue, goals have to come elsewhere for El Tri. That might be through stand-in centre-forward Henry Martin, but also from the wide areas – as noted with Lozano. On the opposite flank could be Alexis Vega, a 24-year-old who has so far spent his whole career in his home nation and become a regular performer for the national team over the last 18 months, adding a few goals to his game along the way. It’s a stretch to say he could be the difference in every match, but if defenders’ attentions are occupied by the bigger name on the opposite flank, he has the technique and ability to attack the box in a very effective way.
There is a real danger that Mexico’s run of getting beyond the group stage in their last eight World Cup appearances comes to an end but they certainly have the ability to beat Poland in the crunch Group C clash, especially if they’re able to keep Robert Lewandowski quiet. Their World Cup know-how shouldn’t be underestimated and while the wait for a first quarter-final appearance since 1986 will likely continue, let’s play the odds and predict that they’ll once again make the last 16. Defeated in the round of 16.