Mexico's Copa América squad has been hit hard by the recent prostitution scandal in nearly every position. However, there is precious little time for commiseration now. In just under eight hours, Mexico will kick off its campaign against a very difficult Chile side that could expose just how hard a task Mexico will have in the coming weeks. One stat that is particularly damning of Mexico's international inexperience is that even with the 45 caps for Giovani Dos Santos, the team still averages 4.26 caps per player. Take out Dos Santos and you have an average of 2.41, with only América defender Paul Aguilar (16) possessing over 10 caps.
Still, given the other results we have seen in the Copa América, it is obvious that it would be silly to write off El Tri right away, not to mention there are still some unquestionably talented (if not proven on this level) players in the squad. Players like Javier Aquino and Hiram Mier have shown quality in the most recent Mexican Primera season, while Rafael Márquez Lugo, though not a regular international, provides some experience leading the line. Furthermore, it seems as though Mexico is particularly adept at overcoming scandal to succeed, as evidenced not only by this year's Gold Cup, but also through Mexico's deep runs in the Copa América in 1993 and 1999.
Even with these intangibles, though, Chile is one of the most talented teams on the continent, and is considered by many pundits one of the number of nations that could upset the Argentine-Brazilian duopoly over the continent. Read on to find out just what has to happen for Mexico to stop Chile...
Marcelo Bielsa may be long gone as coach of Chile, but don't equate his departure with any sort of drop in quality for the Chilean team. Since Claudio Borghi took over as coach, Chile has posted good friendly results and played an attractive style of football, albeit very different from BIelsa's. As his spells with Argentinos Juniors and Colo Colo have shown, Borghi is a more than capable young coach who has already worked with many of Chile's young players. Furtheremore, the team still possesses some highly rated young talent. It seems only a matter of time before the precociously talented Alexis Sanchez joins Barcelona, while the likes of Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel and Matias Fernandez all help form a midfield aged 25 and under, but with plenty of natural talent.
Indeed, it is cutting off the service to Sanchez and Monterrey's Humberto Suazo that could prove crucial to Mexico's chances. However, with Fernández sitting just ahead of Medel and Vidal in Chile's midfield, this is not an easy task. However, with Mexico's most talented wingers suspended, we could very well see more bodies in central midfield, a tactical maneuver that could stifle some of Chile's play through the middle and the possession game Borghi likes his charges to play.
Out wide, though, Chile presents another threat that should not be underestimated, with ex-América winger Jean Beausejour and rumored Milan target Mauricio Isla providing support on the left and right respectively. With its talented wingers, Mexico might have had the quality to pin these two back, but now it seems Mexico could struggle with Beausejour's pace and Isla's work rate as the game drags on.
One place Chile presents a potential weakness is in defense, at least compared to the rest of their lineup. Borghi likes to field a three man back line, and Pablo Contreras, who plays his club soccer with PAOK in Greece, plus Cruz Azul's Waldo Ponce and West Brom's Gonzalo Jara will make up the trio. If Mexico uses a lone striker, with support across the midfield, it could leave the defense overmanned or draw Chile's defenders out of position. This is where the creative talents of Giovani Dos Santos will come in most handy, as he is easily the most adept player in this Mexico side at picking out passes and holes in opposition defenses.
Even if Dos Santos plays a top quality game and Mexico manages to shut out Chile in the middle of the park, it will still be an incredibly tough task to come away with a point, let alone a win. Alexis Sánchez, even without the best of service, is the kind of player who can create something from nothing, not to mention the abilities of Suazo, who Mexican fans are surely familiar with. Still, with a whole array of shocking results, including ties for Bolivia and Venezuela against Argentina and Brazil, respectively, there is hope for El Tri. Even Costa Rica, CONCACAF's other representative in the tournament, also fielding a U-22 team, managed to hold Colombia to only one goal and played down a man and without its best attacking player (Joel Campbell) for a good part of the game.
All things considered, few would begrudge Mexico a loss against the Chileans, especially if they manage to make Chile work for it. A draw would be a great result, while a win might just be one of the more shocking results of the tournament thus far. Whatever the result, it will be crucial for Mexico to keep the morale and spirit up as the following game, against Peru in Mendoza, will likely hold the key to a quarterfinal berth.
Chile-Mexico kicks off at 8:45PM EDT and can be seen in the United States on Telefutura or on the Copa América YouTube channel.