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Six takeaways from Mexico’s performance in the U-20 World Cup

Mexico’s Quarterfinal was a great result but not necessarily a great performance.

Mexico vs England at the U20 World Cup
via @miseleccionmx

Mexico had one of their best ever U-20 World Cups in South Korea as they made it all the way to the Quarterfinals. Unfortunately, for most people it was clear that performance wise, the result wasn't a success and Mexico had a lot of luck in getting where they did, although they did improve considerably as the tournament went on. Here we look at some of the takeaways we have from their performance in the U20 World Cup

1) Mexico needs a change of plans

Mexico's plan for their youth system has been based on having long "procesos" that consist of two-year plans of building a team, with consistent call ups and camps in between as well as playing as many tournament as they can. The idea is to build a cohesive team in which players know each other and can player better as a team than others. Unfortunately, this idea means that the "team" is placed above the players, and a lot of times players that have been playing in the system are given spots over players that may be more talent but weren't part of the process (this because of blooming late or having regular club playing time). The thing is that this doesn’t work all the time. One of the main problems was that Mexico didn't really look like a cohesive unit, as they misplaced passes and failed to connect with each other. Also, the lack of talent was evident, especially compared to the players that were left in Mexico. Unfortunately, the press conference by coach Marco Antonio "Chima" Ruiz and Director Dennis Te Kloese showed that they didn't learn that lesson. Both justified the absence of players like Cesar Montes because "they weren't part of the process", and furthermore, that Mexico had gotten great results because of it and had played equal to great teams (which is more than debatable).

2) Mexico's talent was far from impressive and this is also part of the problem

Another big problem that Mexico's reliance on a process brings about is that, results might be less important than player production. Thus while building a better team might be good for a tournament, it's questionable as a strategy if it doesn't showcase better players. This Quarterfinal run leaves a good taste results wise. but it might not player wise. as few players looked to get a big boost from it. Edson Alvarez, Alejandro Mayorga, Abraham Romero, Uriel Antuna and Alan Cervantes looked to be the only players to really impress. Ronaldo Cisneros had two goals but he was benched halfway through the tournament. Diego Cortes, Pablo Lopez and Eduardo Aguirre, all who stood out in the U-17 World Cup in 2015 , were disappointments. Although this might be normal for a U-20 team. in the end, as with many youth teams, for a Quarterfinal run, it is way too little.

3) The Youth program is based on a faulty premise to begin with.

The basis of the modern idea of the long process in Mexico is based on Bareclona and Spain's World Cup win in 2010. During that time, people in Mexico thought the key to Spain's success was based on Spanish players all knowing and playing the same system and thus dominating it. This because most of them had played in Barca's youth system and their success transitioned into the Spanish National team. After that, it was decided that every youth team will be based on playing the 4-4-2 system that Chepo de la Torre was going to play with and every youth team was led by a former player. This paid dividends with the U-17 winning the World Cup under Raul Gutierrez and getting third place under Juan Carlos Chavez. Yet in the end, this premise was based on wrong information. Spain success was dependent on talent, and as the 2014 World Cup showed, they continued to play the same way without getting the same results. It wasn’t until they started producing better replacements that they started to improve. Also after Potro Gutierrez, the strategy of giving ex players their opportunity has had mixed results. Mario Arteaga had success but Sergio Almaguer was a failure and Ruiz’s performance wasn't a highlight of this team.

4) It seems that for Mexico, size mattered as another U-17 team is in the path to failure

While Lionel Messi keeps being the standard that smaller players aspire to be, as well as the answer to people who say that you need size to be successful in football, the U-20 World Cup might show that this might not be the case for Mexican players. Kevin Magaña, Claudio Zamudio, Eduardo Aguirre, Diego Cortes and Pablo Lopez were among the lesser performers and they all were small sized players from the 2015 U-17 team. The most notable case is Lopez, who was the stand out players from that team. The player, who was among the most speedy and determined, now couldn't get past the taller and faster U-20 players and was benched.

5) The 10/9 Rule has a big impact but it's not the cause of everything.

A lot of people have blamed the 10/9 rule for this team's poor performance, and in truth, a lot of these players should have had opportunities to play for their team and get some experience. It's even more notable when some teams who pride themselves on their youth programs, then don't give opportunities to those players. Santos Laguna is a great example as they had key players in this team that never get opportunities because of their large quantity of foreign players in certain positions. That said, when the team decides to ignore players who weren’t part of this process because of their club commitment, this means that not getting playing time might have helped these players to get call-ups for the U-20 World Cup, making this whole strategy a faulty one.

6) Mexico did well but it could have been better

Mexico's performance overall was great from a results point of view. Reaching a Quarterfinal isn't easy, but players like Cesar Montes, Erick Aguirre and Jorge Sanchez could have really given a boost to this team. When you see that Edson Alvarez was one of the best, if not the best player along with Romero, and then see that he had the least participation in camps because of club commitments, you can see that an upgrade of these players might have given a boost for Mexico to compete. It's nice for Mexico to have success but the problem is if that success ends up blinding Mexico to their problems and the steps needed to overcome them. The right analysis needs to be made, otherwise the success will be a hindrance.