Image courtesy of Mexsport
Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich spent the past few weeks evaluating his domestic options ahead of the critical pair of World Cup qualifiers against Panama (Friday in Mexico City) and Costa Rica (Oct. 15 in San José).
It appears he still needs a little more time to decide his course of action.
Vucetich named a 26-man squad for the upcoming pair of qualifiers, three more than the usual allotment. He plans to pare the group down to 23 one day prior to each qualifier to meet FIFA regulations and then name his matchday squad accordingly.
At this perilous stage, every day counts. Vucetich will sort through the following choices over the next few days in a bid to reach the conclusions required to keep El Tri’s hopes of a place in Brazil alive.
Goalkeepers: Jose de Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul), Guillermo Ochoa (AC Ajaccio/FRA), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)
Ochoa should reclaim the number one shirt with the pecking order established in the wake of Jonathan Orozco’s shoulder injury. Orozco represented a wild card of sorts given his extensive history with Vucetich, but Ochoa’s form in Ligue 1 and Corona’s recent struggles dictate the inclusion of the Ajaccio man.
Defenders: Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Miguel Layún (Club América), Jonny Magallón (Club León), Rafael Márquez (Club León), Severo Meza (Monterrey), Hiram Mier (Monterrey), Carlos Salcido (Tigres) Jorge Torres Nilo (Tigres)
Vucetich faces a number of selection posers in his back four with Héctor Moreno (hamstring) and Diego Reyes (lack of match practice) omitted. Márquez is expected to step straight back into the starting XI after a lengthy absence from El Tri and his recent form for León. The identity of his partner remains less certain with Ayala perhaps ahead of Magallón to rectify mobility concerns. Layún and Torres Nilo offer ambitious options at either fullback slot, while Meza, Mier and Salcido represent more conservative selections. The stakes suggest a more aggressive deportment in that area with Layún’s recent displays creating a strong case for inclusion.
Midfielders: Javier Aquino (Villarreal/SPA), Fernando Arce (Club Tijuana), Isaac Brizuela (Toluca), Christian Giménez (Cruz Azul), Luis Montes (Club León), Carlos Peña (Club León), Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul), Jesús Zavala (Monterrey)
Vucetich’s shape – likely a 4-3-3 setup, though a 4-4-2 also makes some sense with the natural wingers and target players available – will dictate the choices here. Zavala looks most likely to serve as the holding player, though Salcido (if pushed further forward) and Torrado supply more seasoned alternatives. Arce and Giménez add some invention and vertical passing in different ways with Gimenez preferring higher starting positions (a point that could push him onto the forward line. Peña could tie everything together with his box-to-box work, but he has not performed well internationally yet. Aquino, Brizuela (a likely cut) and Montes all provide pace and width on either flank if Vucetich opts to deploy wingers from the start. Andrés Guardado – now primarily a left back with Valencia – missed out entirely due to form considerations, according to Vucetich.
Forwards: Aldo de Nigris (Chivas), Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal/SPA), Marco Fabián (Chivas), Javier Hernández (Manchester United/ENG), Raúl Jiménez (Club América), Lucas Lobos (Tigres), Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna)
Most of the scrutiny here surrounds the health of Peralta. The oft-injured forward trained sparingly this week before scoring the winner in Santos’ 1-0 victory over Pumas on Sunday. Peralta then departed before the final whistle with cramping concerns. Santos coach Pedro Caixinha indicated Peralta would link up with El Tri in his post-match comments, but the prolific forward’s availability may dictate how Vucetich approaches the final third.
Hernández will almost certainly feature in some capacity. Dos Santos will also likely start, probably on the left side. The injury to Ángel Reyna – not a particular favorite of Vucetich after a brief and unsuccessful stay in Monterrey anyways – provides an opportunity for Peralta to start or someone else – perhaps even Giménez as a part of a front three – to fill the void. Carlos Vela’s continued exile removes the best option on the right from the board, though. De Nigris (target player), Fabián (wider option), Lobos (schemer) and Jiménez (pace behind the line) offer the necessary variety.