With less than seven months to go until the 2018 World Cup, the Mexico national team is at a very good point in its preparation.
The squad not only finished at the top of CONCACAF’s Hexagonal, but also recently finished a European friendly tour with a 1-0 win over Poland and a noteworthy 3-3 draw against Belgium. Mexico currently has a good balance of experience and youth within its roster and is developing exciting names like Hirving Lozano and Edson Alvarez before Russia 2018.
All that said, there are still lessons to be learned and remembered from Juan Carlos Osorio’s time as manager. With a focus on his six defeats as Mexico’s leader on the sideline, here’s a look at the takeaways from each one.
June 18th, 2016 : Mexico 0-7 Chile (Copa America Centenario)
What happened: Although over a year has passed since this quarterfinal game, you’ll seldom find a supporter who has forgotten this embarrassment. Osorio attempted to go toe-to-toe with Chile and later emerged with the most abysmal and depressing result in its modern history.
Lesson: Mexico has limitations. Osorio has every right to go right at any opponent, but must plan accordingly. Against Chile, the manager took a risk in a 4-3-3 by giving Jesus Duenas the start as the lone defensive midfielder. Against Belgium last Friday, Osorio recognized and solved that limitation by working with two defensive midfielders instead of one.
When needed against elite teams, Mexico fans should keep their fingers crossed that he maintains this pragmatic approach.
May 27th, 2017: Mexico 1-2 Croatia (Friendly)
What happened: Mexico’s experimental XI controlled the possession and attacking momentum of the game, but also struggled to connect in the final third. As for Croatia, the B/C team pounced on two mistakes that cost Osorio the match. Despite the fact that he attempted to wrestle back a win in a second half that featured big-name players, Mexico only secured one late goal.
Lesson: Hiccups happen during friendlies. Looking back at the starting rosters, it was clear that neither side was taking this game very seriously. If Osorio gains another loss in a preparatory friendly in the future, there should be no need for either the manager, the media or fans to lose much sleep about it.
Injuries left Mexico exposed against Germany in the Confederations Cup semifinal and they were down two goals within 10 minutes.
June 29th, 2017: Germany 4-1 Mexico (Confederations Cup)
What happened: Following injuries to Diego Reyes and Carlos Salcedo, Osorio had to mix his backline up with the inclusion of Oswaldo Alanis at left-back. Germany took advantage of Mexico’s altered defense and scored twice within the first eight minutes of the semifinal clash. In the attack, the frontline failed to be much of a threat.
Lesson: Defensive depth is a problem. Without getting too deep into the argument of whether Osorio should call up more true fullbacks, Mexico’s defensive options continues to be far too thin when there are injuries to key players. Heading into the World Cup, Osorio will have to find a way to aid and support Mexico’s most vulnerable point on the pitch.
July 2nd, 2017: Portugal 2-1 Mexico (Confederations Cup)
What happened: Thanks to an incredible performance from Guillermo Ochoa in net, and an own-goal from Portugal’s Luis Neto in the second half, El Tri nearly stole a third-place finish in the Confederations Cup.
Instead, what followed was an equalizer from Pepe in the 91st minute and a game-winner from Adrien Silva in extra time. With only a couple of minutes left, Osorio was thrown out of the match after protesting a penalty that wasn’t awarded for his side.
Lesson: Osorio must keep his cool. The Confederations Cup showed a different side to the manager. Earlier in the tournament against New Zealand, the Colombian was seen yelling an expletive at one member of the opposing coaching staff. Following the third-place clash against Portugal, he was then given a six-game ban for his aggressive protests toward match officials.
Regardless of the loss, the manager must make sure to keep a cool head in the future.
July 23rd, 2017: Mexico 0-1 Jamaica (Gold Cup)
What happened: On paper, Mexico was the heavy favorite in this semifinal battle last summer. Up-and-coming names such as Orbelin Pineda, Erick Torres, Rodolfo Pizarro and Erick Gutierrez were given an easy path to the final. Unfortunately for Mexican fans, the squad was toothless and far too predictable. A late free kick and ensuing goal from Kemar Lawrence was all that Jamaica needed to secure the victory.
Lesson: Numerous Mexican youngsters still have plenty to prove. In a backup Gold Cup roster that was filled with promising talent, Alvarez was the only player to emerge with a positive showing. To this day, names like Pineda and Gutierrez have yet to showcase that they’re worthy a spot in the senior team.
October 10th, 2017: Honduras 3-2 Mexico (World Cup qualifying)
What happened: With a spot already secured in the World Cup, Osorio tinkered with an atypical 3-1-4-2 formation. Coupled with a Honduras side that was desperate for three points in the final matchday of qualifying, Mexico fell apart after allowing two goals in the second half.
Lesson: Keep the experiments to a minimum. Although the team had already booked a place for Russia 2018, Osorio made it obvious with statements beforehand that he wanted to close out qualifying with a win. The manager isn’t as much of a “mad scientist” as many make him out to be, but instances like this highlight the potential faults of employing unfamiliar formations in the future.