El Tri: Takeaways From Russia

By Aditya Nag
Jul. 05, 2018

El Tri: The Good, The Bad, and The Future

It was a gloomy Monday afternoon for the Mexican National Team in Samara. The Brazilian fans cheered as the Seleção by Neymar celebrated their 2-0 victory on the field. They were through to the quarterfinal at the expense of El Tri. Amidst these celebrations, a crying Hirving “El Chucky” Lozano, Mexico’s young starlet, was being consoled by veteran Miguel Layún. The Mexican fans that stayed for the full 90 were left stunned and sobbing. El Quinto Partido eluded them for the 7th straight time. How did Mexico go from opening the Cup with 2 wins to bowing out on 2 straight losses? Where did it all go wrong?

To go about answering this, we must journey through the good and bad of Mexico’s performance in Russia.

The Good: Heading into the World Cup, many deemed Mexico’s group the group of death. They would have to go against a South Korean team led by Tottenham star Heung Min Son that automatically qualified in AFC, a Swedish team that knocked out Italy on their way to Russia, and of course, the reigning Cup winners in Germany. The first good takeaway from this World Cup for Mexico is there progression to the Round of 16 in one of the toughest groups.

Mexico can also hang their hats on finally beating a major footballing power in a competitive match. For those of you who remember the last World Cup, Mexico had the lead on Holland going into the 87th minute. Through a Sneijder goal and a heartbreaking penalty, they managed to lose the game and tumble out of the Cup. They also bowed out to Germany in last year’s Confederations Cup. Having lost 4-1 to the Germans, Mexico looked to tactically prepare for a more competitive outcome this go around. What they showed in the opening match was much better than any Mexican fan or player could have imagined. Not only did they stifle a lackluster German offense, but they were finally able to put a winning goal in the back of the net through lovely counter. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was the catalyst of the attack, dribbling the ball up the field with intent and playing a fantastic ball for Lozano who cut back and finished to Neuer’s near post.

It was not just the goal or the win that stood out for Mexico, it was the manner they did it in. They looked more dangerous than Germany. Carlos Vela, Chicharito, and Lozano all had many opportunities to add a second, whereas Germany never looked close to scoring apart from a Reus piercing run through the defense and a strike from Julian Brandt that just flew wide of Memo Ochoa’s goal. Mexico were the team that deserved to win, and they appeared to establish the foundation for a deep run.

They continued this form against South Korea. With a Vela penalty and a wonderful finish from Chicharito on a counter attack, Mexico cruised to a 2-1 victory. Through that point in the tournament, Mexico’s only blemish was allowing goal via a wonder-strike from Heung Min Son. With 6 points in the bag, Mexico turned their eyes to the Sweden-Germany game, knowing that if Germany dropped points at all, Mexico were through to the knockout stage. With Sweden and a 10-man Germany tied heading into stoppage time, it was all smiles in the Mexican camp.

The Bad: A 95th minute winner from Toni Kroos to help Germany shock Sweden meant that Mexico had all to play for in their final match. Knowing that a loss and a German win could’ve meant an early exit, Mexico should have come into the game focused and ready to put in a good shift.

However, Mexico’s inability to find a final pass, dribble, and shot in the final third led to a stagnant offense early on. This kept the score even and allowed Sweden to grow into the game. As they did, Sweden began to utilize their size and strength advantage over Mexico, playing direct balls and pressuring the Mexican defense on every cross and set piece. They eventually pounded home 3 goals through lapses in the Mexican defense, and won the group. Mexico, stunned, were able to advance passed the group thanks to a Korean team that never gave up and stunned Germany.

To find where Mexico went wrong, we must look back at the first two games. And we must look passed the goals scored and the points earn. We must look at the opportunities missed by the Mexican attack. In the Germany game, Lozano missed a golden chance early on, skipping a shot just wide of Neuer. Numerous times, Chicharito and Vela missed key passes in the counter attack that would have led to easy goals. Most notably, Chicharito failed on a pass when he and Vela were 2 vs 1 and through on goal. This theme continued against South Korea, and Mexico relied on their defense to get the job done.

Against Sweden, the Mexican offense once again failed to find the final touch required, and whether it was Sweden’s persistent direct attack and physicality, Mexico’s defense being worn down from two and a half games of heavy defending, or a combination of both, Mexico finally broke and the flood gates opened.

Mexico gave its fans and the world a false sense of hope that a deep run was in the cards for them, but their flaws were evident long before the Sweden game, and after that, the world began to see Mexico unravel. Their loss to Sweden meant that they played Brazil rather than Switzerland. With no one to blame for their situation but themselves, Mexico went into their game against the 2nd ranked team in the world knowing that the needed something special to pull off the upset. Whether they lost confidence after the Sweden game, or just ran out of steam, the Mexicans barely looked as though they were going to put a decent shot on Brazilian keeper Alisson. They held firm defensively for a while and pressured well. Their focal point, veteran 39 year old Rafa Marquez helped the defense keep their shape and stifle Brazil in the first half.

Marquez was never going to play the full 90. The Mexican icon just didn’t have the lungs at his age, and as a result was subbed off at halftime. This change left Mexico vulnerable, and it didn’t take long for Neymar and Willian to combine beautifully for Brazil’s first goal. Mexico then threw numbers forward to pull a goal back, but never looked creative enough to put one passed a stout Brazilian defense led by Casemiro and Thiago Silva. Brazil held firm and a late counter from Neymar led to an easy Roberto Firmino tap in to confirm Brazil’s progression, and Mexico’s exit.

Both fans and players were left shocked and sad. Having such high hopes through the first 2 matches made it that much worse on Mexican hearts when the crashed out of the tournament in the Round of 16 once again. Nevertheless, the signs of El Tri missing out on the ever elusive Quinto Partido were evident from the start. With this in mind, El Tri’s following looked to the future to see what’s next for the CONCACAF power.

The Future: Expect to see a lot of change in the Mexican side over the next few years leading to Qatar in 2022. With Marquez retiring and Chicarito, Vela, Guardado, Moreno, Ochoa, Herrera, Layun, Peralta, and many other Mexicans all turning North of 32 by 2022, the focus on the El Tri will shift to young talent. In the attack, the future looks bright. With Lozano already breaking out this World Cup, Mexico will look to him to transfer to a bigger club from PSV(Holland) and develop his skills and ability. At the young age of 22, El Chucky will most likely be the focal point of Mexico’s attack for years to come. He will be joined by the talented Jesus “Tecatito” Corona and Raul Jimenez, two attackers who play for Porto and Benfica of Portugal. While Vela and Chicharito may join them, they will be well into their 30s and their ability to make a big impact will be in question.

The Mexican midfield will likely stay the same with the exception of an aging Andres Guardado. Mexican mainstays such as Hector Herrera and Miguel Layun will likely be back, but their advanced age might hinder them from participated to the effect we saw this World Cup. Expect to see Marco Fabian of Eintract Frankfurt, the experienced Javier Aquino of UANL or Jonathan Dos Santos of LA Galaxy to step up. We might even be surprised by the talented 22 year old Erick Gutierrez of Pachuca.

In defense, we begin to see problems arise for the Mexican National team. The retiring of Marquez was expected but also was a huge loss nonetheless. Hugo Ayala of UNAL and Hector Moreno of Real Sociedad in Spain’s La Liga will both be older than 34 by the time next World Cup. And, with Carlos Salcedo’s doubt about his future with the national team, Mexico may have to find completely new center backs by the next World Cup. Luckily, their young wide backs Jesus Gallardo(23) and Edson Alvarez(20) will wear green for a long time to come.

To develop all of this talent, El Tri will need a solid coach and staff. With rumors flying around the Juan Carlos Osorio’s days as Mexican manager are numbered, El Tri will need to find a capable manager quickly to ensure the youth develop fully before the next World Cup.

The World Cup disappointment will definitely linger with Mexican fans for quite some time. The future will require a lot of sorting out if they wish to improve in the Qatar and break the curse of the elusive Quinto Partido. However, the youth for Mexico look bright, and with the right moves by El Tri over the next four years, we could see a Mexican side the makes a deep run in Qatar in four years. Cheer up Mexican fans, and look ahead all the potential Mexico has to be a world powerhouse.