The cheers ran loud in Estadio Azteca after Mexico beat Panama 1-0 to clinch the World Cup Ticket. The earlier loss by the United States at home against Costa Rica meant a win for Mexico would give them the spot as the fifth team qualified to the World Cup in Russia. It wasn't easy but Mexico was able to pull it off and thus have a completely different World Cup campaign from 2014, where they needed a playoff against New Zealand to clinch the spot. Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio can now start early to focus on the most important tournament in football. Here are some takes from last night’s win at the Azteca
Mexico perform better than expected against really tough conditions. Mexico went into this game on the verge of qualifying but with a very different atmosphere that one would expect from a team on the cusp of a WC ticket. The "bad" campaign in the summer had brought a lot of criticism of the team that was starting to reflect in low ticket sales. Then to make matters worse, incredible heavy rains all week brought flooding all through Mexico City. Not only was it going to affect the field in Azteca but it had the possibility of cancelling the game and it would definitely make a big hit on the attendance to the event. On Thursday, Pumas’ Copa MX game against Celaya was postponed and Azteca's field was filled with puddles. Although they excellent work from the field crew helped, an hour before the game another downpour meant the field would be wet and it ended up hurting the Mexican team that is so dependent on ball movement for their play. Still, Mexico didn't suffer as much as expected and a lot less than in many occasions. While a team at this level should be prepared for stuff like this, with the amount of rain that Mexico City had this week, you can only do so much and Mexico did.
Mexico qualifying so early is not the norm. While the talk about Mexico being the giant of CONCACAF for so long would lead many people to believe that 2014 was a fluke and that qualifying early should be the norm, this isn't true. This is the earliest Mexico has qualified since the Hexagonal started in 1998. Before that, Mexico also had late qualifying dates, although mostly because of the lack of WC tickets that CONCACAF had. Still, this is the first time since 2006 where Mexico has qualified so soon and where they will actually get two WC qualifiers to experiment.
This could be the last World Cup qualifier in Azteca for a while. While the low attendance is understandable because of the weather reasons, the fact is the National team and the Azteca crowd relationship is not at its best. Once again last night, the crowd refused to stop doing the chant that FIFA has deemed homophobic even when it would have helped schools to do so. Not only another does another sanction bring problems to FMF, but with such low attendance, the benefit seems less appetizing to continue. All of this also comes after players had voiced concern over the crowd's ability to quickly turn against their own players and the high altitude affecting Mexican players that ply their trade in Europe. Last night’s game had players like Javier Hernandez, Andres Guarado and Hector Herrera struggling as the game went on with the altitude. Since Mexico is already through, the next home game against Trinidad and Tobago looks set to be moved another venue. Depending of how that plays out, it might be a situation like the last time Mexico qualified easily, the 2006 World Cup campaign, where Mexico played all through the country and not just in Azteca.
Once again we might have a problem with lack of playing time with Euro players. Mexico history of being a team with the majority of players playing in Europe is fairly recent. During that time, while their have been exceptions, for the most part consistent playing time in Europe is reflected in National team performances. A new dark age might be in the horizon, with a couple of Mexican players who are having tough times at their European clubs, reflecting their situation with the National team. Carlos Vela has been dropped to the bench at Real Sociedad, which might have something to do with him signing with newly formed MLS team LAFC starting in 2018. Not surprising he might have been Mexico's poorest player last night. Hector Herrera has also had a rough start with Porto and didn't have a particularly great game, although he never lacked intensity. On the other hand, Mexico's best players were Tecatito Corona and Hirving Lozano, both of whom had great starts to their European season. As things look grim for many Mexican players (Vela, Layun, Herrera, Diego Reyes), it could be one of the biggest worries going into the 2018 World Cup.
Mexico now has plenty of time to fix their many mistakes. Mexico didn't play great in many of the hexagonal games. That being said, that is to be expected as World Cup qualifiers are tough experiences. Also CONCACAF World Cup qualifying is a whole different beast than a World Cup, which might be a good or bad thing. While it hasn't been pretty for Mexico, WC qualifying has been Osorio's most sucessful part of his tenure so far. Osorio thus needs to work on it as not to have repeat performances from his tournament experience. A rumored European trip for the National team might happen now in the FIFA Dates in November. Hopefully it's the start of a plan to change things and continuing the tradition of getting to the next round in every World Cup since 1994.