Before the men in green set foot in Mapfre Stadium on November 11, El Tri will take on a familiar face from the Mexico’s last World Cup Qualifying process. Three years ago, it took a two-legged tie against New Zealand for Mexico to qualify to the World Cup. Now both teams meet again in a friendly in Nashville, Tennessee.
Here is what to watch for in Mexico’s penultimate game before the hexagonal.
What to watch for:
A midfield for the future - For all the talk about Jonathan dos Santos seizing the opportunity, his call-up effectively came to an early end when he was diagnosed with a muscle injury on Thursday. On the whole, there is a growing sense of frustration about not being able to watch one of Mexico’s brighter midfield options, but there is also a sense of genuine hope. Even if Jonathan dos Santos was going to be involved in these next two friendlies, there was always the feeling these games were also about youngsters like Erick Gutierrez and Orbelin Pineda.
Both youngsters are by no means “there” yet, but these are two midfielders Liga MX watchers know so well. The true intrigue to fans and coach Juan Carlos Osorio is both Gutierrez and Pineda touch upon everything a Mexican midfielder should be, technically brilliant and cohesive in tight spaces. Pineda is more excitable going forward, but Gutierrez is the more composed and intelligent of the two.
Watching Mexico through the years, El Tri’s midfield has often looked ponderous against teams that set-up shop and park the bus. If youngsters like Pineda and Gutierrez are to be trusted with Mexico’s midfield in the future, you can certainly see how the games against New Zealand and Panama will be a good test for the youngsters.
Who will step up? - Whether Juan Carlos Osorio critics like it or not, the Colombian manager has a knack for getting the best out of his most unlikely call-ups. Osorio famously called upon Candido Ramirez, who had not played a single league minute in the 2016 Clausura, and the winger responded by notching an assist in Mexico’s 2-0 win over Senegal back in February. Most recently, Queretaro’s Angel Sepulveda put in a serviceable performance against El Salvador to help El Tri get all three points at the Cuscatlán.
Sure, a lot about this squad feels temporary, but if the goal for many of these players is to make the squad for next month’s World Cup qualifiers, this New Zealand game is a good start. In particular, Juan Carlos Osorio likes having a left-footed presence throughout the field, which invites players like Jesus Gallardo and Hedgardo Marin to step-up on Saturday.
Giovani dos Santos - Recently back in El Tri’s fans good books, Giovani dos Santos is back with the Mexico national team. Whatever the reasons, Giovani has not been short of criticism in the past few months. One thing, however, about Giovani is he has always been a great servant for the national team, and there will always be a group of fans who save a special cheer for Gio when he dons the green shirt.
The whole of these next two matches, will be telling about Giovani’s future with the Mexico national team. Here, whether it will be enough to genuinely challenge the spot of regulars like Oribe Peralta, Raul Jimenez, and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in the November call-up is questionable. But the more Giovani works with Osorio and gets used to his style of play, the higher his chances.