Today, with Mexico, we reach the halfway point in our profiles, provided in reverse alphabetical order, of the 32 teams which qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. We will take a break after this profile to provide sundry articles on some of the issues that will be impinging upon this cup from various angles, issues that may have an impact on the final outcome of the tournament.
El Tri (the Tricolors) will be participating in their seventeenth World Cup, the first was in 1930 and their last in 2018, where they famously defeated then cup-holders Germany 1-0. They have hosted the cup twice (1970 and 1986) and reached the quarterfinals in both home-turf tournaments. In the seven other tournaments prior to 1994, they always exited at the Group Stage, but from 1998 on they have always made it to the Round of 16 where, they have fallen in order, to Bulgaria, Germany, USA, Argentina (twice consecutively), Netherlands, and Brazil. A World Cup has seven matches if you reach the semifinals (as you either progress to the finals or play for third place). Mexico is still trying to reach that fifth game-El Quinto Partido.
Placed in Group C with old nemesis Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and Poland, the Mexicans hope they can advance at the expense of one of the latter two. The team, which is ranked 9th in the world by FIFA, well above Saudi Arabia (56 today) and Poland (24) is managed by Argentine Tata Martino who has had a rollercoaster ride as a coach. Now, he has to deal with the absence of recently injured winger Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, a key offensive piece in Mexico’s lineup and especially missed since Martino has not invited Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to be part of the squad, despite his good form at the LA Galaxy.
The issue is that unless Mexico can find its form in the intervening months—and they have not played to their capabilities for well over six months—and mold a team around those stars it does have available, their cup could end well before the fifth game. Mexico’s home kit is a green shirt over white pants and red socks, their away uniform is a white shirt with red and green highlights over green shorts and white socks.
Mexico is the southernmost part of the North American continent which also comprises its northern neighbors Canada and the USA. The country covers 1,972,550 square miles, making it the world’s 13th largest by area, and it has a population of 126M making it the 10th most populous country. Nearly 22M people live in the larger Mexico City metropolitan area and the country has 20 cities with a population of 1M or more. Identified as one of the six cradles of civilization—together with Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient India, Ancient China, and Caral-Supe in Peru—pre-Columbian Mexico can trace its beginning to about 8,000 BCE. Among the many civilizations that once inhabited the current Mexican lands were the Olmec (the sixth cradle), Maya, and Aztec. Spain’s conquest of the Aztecs ushered in 300 years of Spanish control until Mexico achieved its independence in 1821. The nation is a federal presidential republic today with its most recent constitution established in 1917.
Mexicans are ethnically derived from 56 Amerindian and several foreign ethnic groups, they speak Spanish, are 89% Christian, have a $2.715T GDP, an HDI of 0.758 (high), and given its size Mexico has nine diverse regions each with its own topography/geography/climate. The country is traversed by two mountain ranges and has few rivers or lakes and several volcanoes and is prone to earthquakes. Culturally, art in caves has been found in Mexico dating from 7,500 years ago, its cuisine is savored worldwide, its distinctive mariachi music is enjoyed wide and far, and they are globally renowned for their literature which includes the works of Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a witness to the Spanish Conquest, to Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz, and novelists Carlos Fuentes and Juan Rulfo, and their art is also famous such as from Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The Aztec Stadium, host to two World Cup finals (1970 and 1986), is still the largest capacity soccer stadium in Latin America.
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers—Alfredo Talavera (Juarez), Rodolfo Cota (Leon), and Guillermo Ochoa (America); Defenders—Nestor Araujo (America), Cesar Montes (Monterrey), Johan Vasquez (Cremonese), Jorge Sanchez (Ajax), Hector Moreno (Monterrey), Jevin Alvarez (Pachuca), Gerardo Arteaga (Genk), Jesus Gallardo (Monterrey), and Jesus Alberto Angulo (UANL); Midfielders—Andres Guardado (Betis), Hector Herrera (Houston Dynamo), Edson Alvarez (Ajax), Orbelin Pineda (AEK Athens), Luis Romo (Monterrey), Carlos Rodriguez (Cruz Azul), Diego Lainez (Braga), Erick Gutierrez (PSV), Uriel Antuna (Cruz Azul), Roberto Alvarado (Guadalajara), Bernando Beltran (Guadalajara), Erick Sanchez (Pachuca) and Luis Chavez (Pachuca); Strikers—Raul Jimenez (Wolves), Alexis Vega (Guadalajara), Rogelio Funes Mori (Monterrey), Santiago Gimenez (Feyenoord), Henry Martin (America), and Hirving Lozano (Napoli); but don’t give up hope that Javier Chicharito Hernandez will show up at the last moment.
Path to Qatar
El Tri, at the time the qualifiers were set up, was ranked number one in CONCACAF, so they got a bye into the Third Round of qualifiers. That round was a hexagonal tourney with the USA, Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Honduras, and Mexico qualified directly to Qatar by coming in second out of the top three who punched their tickets automatically from CONCACAF. While Mexico came in second they were tied in points with Canada. It was the Tri’s inferior goal differential that bumped them down a slot.
Yet, in qualifying they lost to the USA and Canada and only drew with both on the return match. Furthermore, last summer they also lost both the Nations League final in June and the Gold Cup final in August to the USA. In their last seven friendly games, since qualifying for Qatar in March of this year, they have won against Nigeria and Suriname, tied with Guatemala, Ecuador, and Jamaica, and lost to Uruguay and Paraguay. They have four friendlies left to prepare with before the World Cup begins—matches against Sweden, Iraq, Peru, and Colombia.
Mexico have experimented with a few formations but basically play a 4-3-3 with quality in every line. They are disciplined in defense, strong and creative in midfield, and quick and lethal in attack. Perhaps more importantly they have a certain assuredness about their World Cup participation—they believe they belong and that they are the cream of the CONCACAF class. With the likes of Hirving Lozano and Raul Jimenez up front and veteran midfielders like Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera providing bite and creativity at the center circle, not to mention Guillermo Ochoa under the posts, Mexico has quality players who have been on this stage before. It will be up to Martino to get them up to speed and his time is running out.
Aside from the players mentioned above, veteran defenders Hector Moreno, Nestor Raujo, and Jesus Gallardo are supported by up-and-comers like Cesar Montes and Jorge Sanchez to provide a very stable defense. What will make the difference though will be at the two ends of the pitch—can a returning Chicharito meld with a Lozano and Jimenez in time to show the world the quality of this trio and will Ochoa again become the hero he always seems to be during World Cups? If the answer to both questions is yes, the Tri has a chance to make noise in Qatar.
Group and Tourney Prospects
The gods seem to have given Mexico a perfect group—a clear favorite in Argentina, but a known quantity to target for an upset; an easier foe in Saudi Arabia, should the Americans need a cushion or have an off game; and what should end up being an even match against Poland if both teams are at full strength. Things have to fall in place for Mexico, but if they do, they will advance. If they remain stuck in their current gear, they will be watching Poland play in their stead in the Round of 16, not even having made the fourth game, let alone the fifth game.
One good bit of news is that Mexico was not particularly impressive leading up to the 2018 World Cup yet managed a 1-0 win over Germany, and a 2-1 win over South Korea before falling 3-0 to Sweden but still advancing from their group. It was the next round, the fourth game, which saw them fall 2-0 to Brazil, again in the Round of 16. If the Mexicans get it together in time and come in second in their group, they would most probably meet France in the Round of 16 and unfortunately, that would seal the Tri’s fate.
Photo: Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa, Shutterstock ID: 672172534, by: Alizada Studios