29
Jan

Five points learned from Mexico’s 4-0 victory over Korea Republic

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1. Miguel Herrera places his fringe players in a position to succeed… : Herrera revealed his plans to experiment by posting his starting XI on Twitter Tuesday night. The sage decision to blend core players (Rafa Márquez, Carlos Peña and Oribe Peralta) with fresh faces (Rodolfo Pizarro, Alan Pulido and José Juan Vázquez) offered a timely chance to rifle through the deeper end of the squad and sift through potential options.

2. … and they did about as well as expected: Korea Republic posed problems with its industry and its willingness to operate at a high tempo. Mexico coped with those concerns with some proficiency and eventually placed the Koreans under pressure by using the wide areas. The balance of the game allowed some players to impress. Miguel Ponce capped his impressive 45-minute audition at left wing by supplying a teasing cross for Oribe Peralta’s well-taken opener. Pulido smashed home from close range in first half stoppage time to mark his debut with a goal and then struck twice more in the late stages to grab his hat trick. Most of the other contenders clamoring for a place in the plans adjusted well enough to the demands of the game without bolstering or harming their chances.

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3. Carlos Peña remains the integral piece in midfield: Peña once again drove El Tri toward goal during his first-half appearance. His driving runs attract the opposition and create lanes for others to exploit. The León man doesn’t always hit the perfect pass, but he more than makes up for it by marauding into the opposing penalty area and neatly switching the point of attack. If only the other choices in midfield — Isaac Brizuela in an unfamiliar central role (though his run on the third goal was sublime), then usual partner Luis Montes after the interval — could meet the standard he sets.

4. Where does Diego Reyes fit in the pecking order?: Reyes muddled through this assignment with the proficiency expected of a player lacking match practice. He handled his duties well enough on the night, but he often showed his rust at inopportune junctures. Herrera wisely left him on the field for the full 90 minutes to hone his sharpness a bit. Reyes even assumed the armband from Márquez during the second half. At this point, it looks like Reyes will find his way into the squad. Whether he can carve out a place in the starting XI likely hinges on his ability to force his way into the reckoning at Porto during the second half of the season.

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5. Set piece defending remains a significant concern: Korea Republic spurned two glorious chances to take the lead. Both of the opportunities came from poor marking on set pieces. Korea’s profligacy mirrored its lack of incisiveness and underscored El Tri’s lingering concerns about attentiveness in dead ball situations. Herrera must sort out the problem in short order to avoid potentially drastic consequences in tighter matches at the World Cup.

23
Nov

Liga MX Liguilla quarterfinals, first leg preview

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The chase to dethrone Club América kicks off in earnest this weekend. Las Aguilas sit atop Liga MX after winning the Liguilla during the Clausura, but seven challengers to the throne emerged during the Apertura in a bid to end their reign over the next few weeks.

The potential usurpers will take heart from the FMF’s decision to adopt America as its de facto national team during the past month or so. The prospect of knocking off the holders increased when coach Miguel Herrera and 10 of his players shifted their focus to El Tri’s World Cup bid.

It is still a mighty assignment to knock them from their perch, though. The first step along the difficult path for the champions and their potential conquerors: navigating through tricky first leg ties this weekend.

(5) Toluca – (4) Cruz Azul (Saturday, 6:00p.m. ET)

Do the Red Devils have one last attacking explosion left in the arsenal? José Cardozo’s side scored three or more goals on five separate occasions during the Apertura. A sixth would place them in good stead ahead of a difficult return trip to Estadio Azul. Anything less could place their hopes of a semifinal place in some doubt given the seasoned opposition.

(6) Morelia – (3) Club León (Saturday, 8:00p.m. ET)

Can Morelia choke off the supply lines to Mauro Boselli? The former Wigan man functions as the only reliable threat in a capable, but somewhat impotent, León side. Morelia isn’t a particular resolute side, but it must use its defensive resources to limit Boselli’s involvement and pile the pressure on the likes of Luis Montes and Carlos Peña to contribute more than approach play from midfield.

imageStop Boselli, and you can stop Leon

(8) Tigres – (1) Club América (Sunday, 6:00p.m. ET)

Are the champions up for the fight? Miguel Herrera and a significant contingent spent much of the past month focused on carrying Mexico to the World Cup. They returned from a trip halfway around the world in midweek before commencing the disjointed preparations for this tricky test against talented, yet underachieving, Tigres. The first leg represents a genuine opportunity for Tigres to snatch a result as Las Aguilas settle back into the domestic scene. The home side must take it in order to fuel its upset bid.

(7) Querétaro – (2) Santos Laguna (Sunday, 8:00p.m. ET)

How will Pedro Caixinha manage Oribe Peralta? Peralta lifted Mexico to the World Cup with his goals over the past week or so. The burden placed upon him internationally and the lingering concerns about his balky knee raise questions about how the clever Santos boss will use him in this first leg. Caixinha can afford to leave Peralta in reserve and play Javier Orozco (a natural target man) in his place at the outset. The one caveat: the rest of the side must lift its level accordingly to ensure that potential selection decision does not place the hopes of a semifinal berth in peril.

imageWill Peralta’s hot form with El Tri translate over to the Liga MX playoffs? (Images: MexSport)

20
Nov

Five points from Mexico’s World Cup qualifying win vs. New Zealand

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Mexico complete its escape from the abyss in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Most of the hard work occurred a week ago at the Azteca, but the 4-2 triumph in Wellington dispatched New Zealand for good and guaranteed El Tri’s place in the World Cup draw next month.

The two-legged victory bolstered Miguel Herrera’s considerable claims for a full-time appointment and rescued this sputtering qualifying mission at the last possible instant. Oribe Peralta grabbed a first-half hat trick to erase any lingering doubts, but the second half — peculiar as it was — could prove more useful to Herrera as he starts to plot the next step.

Each move from now until next summer will prove crucial. Herrera must accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. And he must weigh a few of the take-home points from this second leg at Westpac Stadium along the way with him to achieve those ends:

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1. Directness works for this group: Mexico must figure out what it can take from this modest test and apply to more rigorous examinations. Herrera’s emphasis on playing quickly through midfield and providing service behind the line should stick. This team must counterattack deftly against better opponents. This setup — a 5-3-2 formation reliant on overlapping wingbacks and tidy passing sequences — should fare well enough if Herrera can insert one or two players capable of increasing the tempo even further.

2. Carlos Pena makes everything tick …: El Tri labored through this year with a central midfield incapable of providing the incisive pass and unwilling to join the attack at the proper junctures. Pena eradicated those concerns and finally transferred his domestic effectiveness to the international scene. His relentless vertical running through midfield makes Mexico more potent and offers a necessary dimension against more diverse opposition. His clever feed to Peralta for the opener showed he possesses the necessary guile to play through the lines, too.

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3. … and Peralta makes everything worthwhile: The streamlined approach through midfield only works if the forwards hold up the ball usefully and polish off the chances presented to them efficiently. Peralta earned top marks in both departments during both legs. He brings other players into attacking sequences and then moves intelligently into spots where he can convert in front of goal. His place in this lineup — barring a recurrence of those troublesome knee complaints — looks assured for the moment.

4. Late reminders underscore persistent defensive concerns: Herrera expects his three central defenders to establish a resolute base for his side to venture forward. The past three matches suggest this personnel group simply isn’t sufficient to fulfill that role against stronger competition. New Zealand played behind Rafa Márquez, Maza Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela far too easily given the paucity of genuine quality in its ranks. Rory Fallon’s goal, in particular, sounded a loud warning for trouble ahead. This stopgap trio needs reinforcements to cope with more astute players capable of punishing Mexico for its inability to cope with clever runs or tend to space properly.

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5. Time to make peace with the foreign contingent: The late wobbles in this second leg owed much to New Zealand’s persistence in Ricki Herbert’s final match in charge, but they also reinforced the need for further strengthening over the next few months. Herrera cannot afford to lean on a domestic core next summer. He must find a way to integrate Giovani dos Santos, Javier Hernández and Héctor Moreno into this revamped setup. And he needs to concoct a plan to persuade the exiled Carlos Vela to return to the fold as well. Those four players make Mexico a better and more complete outfit. It is now down to Herrera to ensure they carve out meaningful roles and spark El Tri to success in Brazil.

Images provided by Getty.

13
Nov

Five Points: Mexico 5, New Zealand 1

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(Image: Getty Images)

Mexico essentially booked its place in Brazil with an emphatic 5-1 victory over New Zealand on Wednesday afternoon.

El Tri finally emerged from its doldrums and swept aside the overwhelmed All Whites to remove any doubt from this potentially tricky tie. Interim boss Miguel Herrera relied on his Club América stalwarts and influential striker Oribe Peralta to cobble together the comprehensive display and render the return leg in Wellington moot.

How did Mexico cast aside its recent struggles and end New Zealand’s hopes of an upset? These five points offer an explanation of the resounding victory at the Azteca:

1. Patience yields production: Mexico probably could have and should have pushed the tempo a bit higher in the early stages, but it instead used its possession wisely and waited for New Zealand to crack. The composure offered a stark contrast to the desperate efforts earlier in the year and reaped significant dividends when the All Whites eventually crumbled.

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(Image: Getty Images)

2. Get it wide, get it into the box: Herrera tasked Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún with pushing high up the flanks and supplying Peralta and Raul Jiménez. Time and time again, they fulfilled their brief. Their willingness to operate in advanced locations pulled apart New Zealand’s shape horizontally (a 3-4-3 on paper that played like a 5-4-1 in practice) and sent them running into dangerous areas. Aguilar scored the first by continuing his run at the back post, while Layún provided the service on both Peralta goals from the left flank.

3. Rely on diagonals to stretch the field … : New Zealand conceded possession and sat deeply for much of this game, but it found itself exposed by Rafa Márquez’s penchant to hit diagonals from right to left. Márquez created the third and fourth goals by playing directly from back to front and switching the point of attack to provide space for Layún to serve into the penalty area. Credit Márquez for leaning on his considerable technical ability to exploit the weakness, but the All Whites really should not have allowed that sort of direct play to unlock its rearguard.

 

(Image: Getty Images)

4. … and take advantage of set pieces: Mexico took charge from dead ball situations – particularly on corner kicks – by ceding some ground to the All Whites and then constructing alternative routes to goal. The most profitable line of inquiry came from playing quickly. New Zealand’s zonal marking system reacted poorly to short corners: the visitors often adopted static positions to cope with developing and fluid situations. The lack of awareness allowed Mexico to curl dangerous balls into the penalty area and score the first and fifth goals from dead ball situations. It proved a rather jarring contradiction to the All Whites’ expected superiority in this department.

5. In this test of depth, Mexico emerged with a resounding victory: Both teams entered this tie at something less than full strength. Herrera left out his European-based players to build a cohesive unit over an extended period of time. New Zealand boss Ricki Herbert omitted injured captain Winston Reid (ankle) and relegated the recovering Marco Rojas and Shane Smeltz to the bench.

The gap between the middle of the two player pools showed in this game: Herrera plumped for in-form Liga MX players to carry the day, while Herbert relied on A-League standouts, out-of-contract players and New Zealand-based semi-professionals to fill his void. New Zealand needed the discipline, the fitness and the structure supplied by its stars to conjure up the Herculean performance required to snatch a result at the Azteca. On this day, the All Whites simply did not have the players to compete for 90 minutes. And it showed.

13
Nov

Five points: Mexico v New Zealand, World Cup Qualifying Playoff

Mexico’s place in the World Cup should not rest upon success in a two-legged playoff against New Zealand. This tiresome process should have ended long ago. It has not for a host of reasons. And the ongoing series of failures ensures El Tri still has work to do to secure a place in Brazil next summer.

It is not an easy task, either. New Zealand offers committed and organized opposition. Mexico once again boasts a significant edge in technical ability, but it must close the difference in other, more rudimentary departments in order to see off the All Whites and travel to Wellington next week with a hefty advantage in tow.

Interim boss Miguel Herrera expects his charges to emerge victorious at Estadio Azteca. If they adhere to the game plan and note these five points along the way, then they should finally meet expectations and place both hands on a World Cup berth before leaving Mexico City:

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31
Oct

Five points: Mexico vs. Finland friendly

Mexico interim boss Miguel Herrera entered his only friendly prior to the World Cup playoff with New Zealand in search of evidence.

Herrera declared himself relatively pleased in the wake of the 4-2 triumph over Finland in San Diego, but the totality of the knowledge gained will give him plenty of room for pause. The switch to a 5-3-2 setup and the turnover in personnel inspired the expected uptick in certain areas without erasing all of the lingering problems exposed over the course of the past year.

In the buildup to the two-legged tie next month, Herrera must ponder a few crucial points from this match as he prepares El Tri for an unorthodox test:

1. The most important shift occurred on the ball in the attacking half: Mexico often bogs down when the opposition sets out its stall. The work in possession is tidy enough, but it often lacks the necessary creativity and thrust to break down an organized defense from the run of play. Herrera addressed the concern by directing his players to move more swiftly toward goal. The extra impetus – combined with decent width from the wingbacks – inspired more incisiveness in the final third. It is a tactic Mexico should embrace in the short term, given New Zealand’s willingness to pack numbers behind the ball.

2. No player benefited from the adjustments more than Carlos Peña: The industrious midfielder storms through midfield time and time again for Club León. His driving runs against the Finns – including the work to prompt and score Mexico’s second – provided the spark required to make this new setup hum.

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3. The search for a creative influence continues: Luis Montes featured from the start in a role previously earmarked for Lucas Lobos (withdrew due to family matters) and Rubens Sambueza (ruled ineligible by FIFA). Montes influenced the game in the early stages with his work in the buildup to the first two goals, but he faded out of it after that point. Sinha replaced him during the second half and struggled to conjure up chances. Herrera must locate a creative force to aid the efforts to break down New Zealand. Otherwise, Mexico may labor to knock down the door yet again.

4. Javier Hernández remains a key figure up front: Herrera continues to foreshadow rather limited involvement for his European-based players against New Zealand, but he should include Chicharito in his plans. The predatory striker presents more consistent danger in and around the penalty area than his chief competitor, Raúl Jiménez. The combination of Hernández on the prowl early with Oribe Peralta (a mandatory inclusion at this point) and Jiménez over the top late looks like Mexico’s best option up front at the moment.

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5. Rickety defense needs reinforcements: The introduction of a third center back did not shore up the persistent issues in defense. There were issues with spacing and stepping all night against a rather impotent Finland side. Both concerns present significant danger given the dearth of pace in the trio of Rafa Márquez, Maza Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela. Herrera ruled out Diego Reyes – a good fit given his familiarity with the system – as a potential savior after the match. If Reyes isn’t coming, then El Tri must opt for Héctor Moreno and search for other alternatives to strengthen a defensive unit that cannot afford to give the All Whites a foothold in Mexico City.

(Images courtesy: Getty Images)

13
Oct

Still plenty of work ahead for Mexico

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Image courtesy Mexsport Sports Agency

Raúl Jiménez’s stunning bicycle kick constituted just one spectacular moment in Mexico’s 2-1 victory over Panama on Friday night. But Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich must process more than just the fallout from Jiménez’s stunning late winner. There is plenty of work still ahead for El Tri over the next few days. A place in the World Cup playoff against New Zealand isn’t assured just yet.

 

Only a result in Costa Rica on Tuesday will continue the salvage work — considerably aided by Jiménez’s moment of brilliance — and keep those hopes of a trip to Brazil next summer alive. In order to move forward in their quest, Vucetich and his players must address the positives and negatives from a night they will never forget.

1. Keep the ambition and the shape: Mexico faces a different challenge requiring a more modest deportment when it takes the field in San José, but its desperation-induced win was a refreshing change from the impotence displayed under José Manuel de la Torre. Vucetich underscored his tactical acumen by plumping for a 4-4-2 setup and tailoring it to the players at his disposal. The execution waned a bit in the second half, but the structure offers El Tri a foundation to build upon.

2. Herald the importance of overlapping fullbacks: Considerable space opened in midfield when Miguel Layún and Jorge Torres Nilo ventured into the attacking half. Layún and Torres Nilo supplied that additional dimension by creating room for Javier Aquino and Giovani dos Santos to cut toward the middle and providing good service from the wide areas. Vucetich can persist with the inverted wingers if he chooses, but his reliance on Layún and Torres Nilo appears compulsory at the moment. One caveat: both players must tend to their defensive duties more judiciously away from home.
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Image courtesy Getty Images


3. Reinforce the need to retain possession in midfield: Carlos Peña served as the primary offender in this department, though he certainly had some help along the way. Peña operates with the ambition and the fervor lacking in central midfield for much of this year, but his desire to stamp his imprint on the game often prompts him to concede possession in poor areas. Jesús Zavala covers for him well (more on that bit in a moment) without providing a permanent solution to this problem. Panama did not punish Mexico for this, but Costa Rica could do so on Tuesday.

4. Underscore the need to retain proper defensive shape: Zavala stood out as one of the top performers for El Tri because he adjusted to the demands of the game and played to the strengths of his teammates. Vucetich asked Zavala to operate from a deep-lying position in midfield and slide between centerbacks Hugo Ayala and Rafa Márquez in possession. By adding an auxiliary third center back into the mix, Mexico retained the proper numbers when Rafa Márquez stepped into midfield to distribute or the fullbacks meandered forward.

The calculus changes a bit away from home, though. Zavala will still drop from time to time, but the back four must retain its shape religiously. Rafa Márquez, in particular, must marshal his defense astutely in order to avoid the problems that led to Luis Tejada’s equalizer (primarily a poor clearing header from Ayala, but also poor adjustments to the quick change in possession) and submit the resolute display required to claim a point or three.image

Image courtesy Getty Images

5. Ponder where Chicharito fits into the mix: The clamor for Jiménez’s inclusion increased exponentially when he smashed home that bicycle kick. If he does feature from the start (a risky move that would reduce the problems he causes opponents with his speed late in games), then he would likely replace Javier Hernández in the starting XI. That decision, however, must be made carefully. Hernández functioned well enough with Oribe Peralta, played a neat one-two to arrange Mexico’s only goal from the run of play and posed a threat from time to time. His second half penalty miss betrayed his current dearth of confidence and match practice and counted against him, though.

Perhaps the best course of action for all involved parties – Hernández, Jiménez and Mexico – involves maintaining the newly established partnership and then bringing the young star off the bench. After all, that course of action produced that wonderful goal to win the match, didn’t it?

11
Oct

Five points: Mexico vs. Panama

Previous failures have forced Mexico in a must-win position against Panama tonight. El Tri cannot afford a fifth consecutive match without a victory at Estadio Azteca. Anything less than the full complement of points against the Canaleros will place Mexico in the unenviable position of requiring help from the United States in Panama City on Tuesday to secure a place in a World Cup playoff against New Zealand next month. image

Victor Manuel Vucetich addresses the media. (Photo: Miguel Tovar/Getty Images)

In order to avoid that awkward situation and maintain control of its own destiny, Mexico must absorb the crippling pressure and produce its best home performance of the Hexagonal to dispatch a canny and motivated Panamanian outfit. Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich will hope these five factors spur Mexico to the display required to grab hold of its World Cup hopes.

1. Establish a solid foundation: The recent struggles to score at Estadio Azteca will encourage Mexico to push additional numbers into the attacking half in a bid to rectify the concern. It cannot do so without a coherent plan to adjust its defensive shape accordingly. Vucetich said on Thursday he wants his side to play aggressively without losing the necessary balance in the back. He will likely aid the process by plumping for a 4-4-2 formation to match Julio Dely Valdes’ preferred tactical setup and provide some of the required solidity. The rest will come down to how the players adhere to the instructions set forth and remember the potential pain created by pursuing the game too ardently.

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Giovani dos Santos in training. (Photo: Miguel Tovar/Getty Images)

2. Commit the right numbers forward at the right times: Vucetich is expected to select Miguel Layún and Jorge Torres Nilo at fullback to boost El Tri’s options in the wide areas. Both players offer more going forward than they do inside their own third. Panama will look to exploit the space created by their forays into the attacking half by moving quickly to exploit the vacated spaces. Mexico must ensure those excursions do not create counterattacking situations where expected central defenders Hugo Ayala and Rafa Márquez must confront the Panamanian forwards – particularly the mobile Gabriel Torres, a likely starter – one-versus-one.

3. Overload the wide areas to create operating room: Mexico functions best when it receives quality contributions on the flanks. In this projected setup, with Giovani dos Santos and Christian Giménez likely to feature as nominal wide players with established tendencies to drift inside, the onus will fall on Layun and Torres Nilo to overlap frequently and provide width. The extra man out wide does a couple of things for El Tri: it creates two-versus-one opportunities with the midfielders to exploit the suspect Panamanian fullbacks and it stretches the normally compact Panamanian shape. It looks likely to work on paper, but it must succeed in practice, too. Layún and Torres Nilo must give Panama a reason to adjust and compensate to their presence by combining well and providing accurate service into the penalty area.

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Oribe Peralta and Javier Hernández prepare to face Panama (Photo: Omar Torres/Getty Images)

4. Lean on Oribe Peralta to pull everything together: The Santos Laguna man is expected to partner Javier Hernández up front for Mexico. He operates a bit different than Chicharito does: he is a capable conduit willing to drop off the line to facilitate play and permit other players (in this instance, likely central midfield inclusion and club teammate Carlos Peña) to leap into the attack. His aerial presence – he poses a significant danger despite not boasting the size of a prototypical target man – provides a more direct route to goal if required, too. If Peralta can find a way to influence the game (and perhaps even drag Felipe Baloy a step or two out of position along the way), then Mexico stands a good chance of procuring the points.

5. Trust the special players to make a difference: Vucetich will send out El Tri with a more coherent tactical approach than José Manuel de la Torre ever mustered, but he still must rely on his players to perform. The onus falls upon dos Santos and Hernández – the two superlative players in this squad – to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and spur Mexico to the sort of showing missing so far in this Hexagonal. The two stars must inspire an across-the-board improvement to ensure Mexico retains its World Cup hopes at least through the weekend.

6
Oct

Vucetich with decisions to make after Mexico roster announcement

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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.

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