The Hexagonal, CONCACAF's final round of qualifiers for Russia 2018, is upon us and Mexico will have a very tough start. Mexico will open up the tournament away against their biggest rivals, the United States, and will then follow up with another tough away game in Panama. Both of these games will be in November.
In March 2017 Mexico will get their first home game when they face Costa Rica and then will travel to Trinidad and Tobago. They will close out the first half of the hex with a home game against Honduras and then will start the second half of the tournament facing the United States at home a couple of days later.
Mexico's disappointing draw with Honduras meant that Honduras went through to the hexagonal and Canada missed out. It also means a visit to the extremely tough San Pedro Sula venue instead of a beneficial Vancouver.
Here’s a look at the rivals:
United States: The main rival against Mexico. While they have struggled with Jurgen Klinnsman, the team right now in in an upswing after finishing fourth in the Copa America and destroying St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago in the final two games. The loss against Guatemala seems to be behind them and the fact is that regardless of the time, they are always a tough game for Mexico especially in Columbus.
Panama: Having been beaten by Mexico for CONCACAF’s intercontinental playoff spot last time around, no team will have it out for Mexico as much as Panama. Although they did struggle in Copa America and some of their forwards like Luis Tejada and Blas Perez are starting to get old and haven't been replaced, the fact is that Panama has become a tough team for Mexico and they will especially be tough in Panama city.
Costa Rica: the majority of people will consider this the best rival after the United States in these qualifiers and they may have enough credibility to be considered the best after Mexico. Costa Rica dominated the toughest semifinal group and they are coming from a Quarterfinal performance in Brazil 2014. The only cracks in their armor have been their total failure in the 2015 Gold Cup (under another coach) and their first round exit in the 2016 Copa America where they should have done better than just a win against Colombia's B team.
Trinidad and Tobago: On paper they are the weakest team in the hexagonal but that might not be good news for Mexico. Trinidad and Tobago has had great recent performances against Mexico with 2 ties and 7 goals scored (4-4 in the 2015 Gold Cup and 3-3 in a friendly that was the debut of the Ricardo “Tuca” Ferreti internship). They are a team whose style troubles Mexico and will be a tough rival, although the home game in Mexico might be the easiest game for El Tri.
Honduras: One of the toughest rivals in Mexico's WC qualifying history, Honduras is not coming to the hex behind great momentum. They qualified in the last game and with barely 8 points. Yet Costa Rica was in a similar position (right down to being in Mexico's group) last time and they completely turned it around in the hexagonal. Honduras is also coming on the back of a disastrous 2015 Gold Cup that caused them to miss a spot in the 2016 Copa America.
Still they have a top manager in Pinto and they might use the Olympic team (that finished in 4th place) as their base team for the hexagonal. That said, even if Mexico had a bad result against them on Tuesday, the fact of the matter is that they were closer to a win than Honduras, a team that had their whole team available and was playing for their lives. Mexico, on the other hand, was already qualified and missing several key players. Given that, the future might look better against Honduras than the other teams in the Hex for Mexico.
On paper, this hex looks weaker than the 2013 one, which should give some comfort especially after that disastrous campaign under Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre. Having survived that, Mexico might be more prepared for this hexagonal and should not repeat the mistakes they did in 2013. However, Osorio's recent results and the general pessimistic funk in Mexico might also not bode well for Mexico as they face the toughest and most important path for their ticket to Russia 2018.