19
Nov

Mexico’s pursuit of happiness close to fruition

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Mexico accomplished the hard work in its 5-1 thrashing of New Zealand at the Azteca a week ago. The comprehensive display on home soil rendered this return leg in Wellington academic. After a long, hard slog through qualifying, El Tri will finally book its World Cup place in the wee hours on Wednesday morning.

New Zealand will huff and puff to somehow close the chasm between the two sides at the Westpac Stadium, but the outcome of this two-legged affair is essentially certain. The imminent triumph does not mean this second leg is entirely worthless for Mexico, though.

Interim boss Miguel Herrera faces a difficult task over the next few months to transition El Tri from a side capable of defeating the All Whites over two legs to a squad capable of marching through the rigors in Brazil next summer. Here are five points to monitor from this second leg with that objective in mind:

1. Application matters first and foremost: This trek halfway across the world isn’t a vacation. Mexico cannot simply afford to turn up and collect its World Cup berth in defeat. El Tri wasted far too much time during the Hexagonal to squander this opportunity. Herrera must goad his players into performing on the day and stating their claims for inclusion as this group evolves over the next few months.

2. Watch the weak spots: Herrera omitted his European-based players for this exercise. He cannot afford to keep them stranded in the cold given the questions in his starting XI. Potential problems exist in seemingly every department in this team. Several candidates stepped forward with their displays in Mexico City, but those first steps will not erase the concerns about the defensive solidity and the inherent dearth of creativity within this group.

3. Thank the All Whites for their help … : New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert announced he would include Marco Rojas and Shane Smeltz in his starting XI for this impossible rescue mission on Monday. His decision to field an unexpectedly aggressive 4-4-2 setup (these are the All Whites, after all) should place the rickety Mexican defense under some pressure. New Zealand won’t present a rigorous examination by any means, but this fixture does provide Herrera with an opportunity to gather more evidence about whether this unit – and particularly the central defensive trio of Rafa Márquez, Maza Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela – is suited to more difficult assignments.

4. … and keep an eye on the counter: The implementation of Herrera’s 5-3-2 formation provides Mexico with the directness necessary to trouble teams on the break next summer. New Zealand isn’t a go for broke sort of side, but the All Whites will push the fullbacks and the wingers higher in a desperate bid to turn around the tie. El Tri must find a way to exploit that space – preferably through wingbacks Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún – to punish the All Whites and show the necessary tools to pull apart better sides.

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5. Examine Raúl Jiménez’s contributions carefully: The promising striker faces considerable competition for his place with Aldo de Nigris in the squad and Javier Hernández looming as a potential replacement down the line. His skills at this stage – mostly predicated on darting behind the line and stretching the field vertically – offer him a chance to thrive in this situation if selected again. He must take his opening to bolster his own chances moving forward.

Images provided by Getty