Mexico may now be guaranteed a place in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup, but there is still much to play for in their final group game against Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday. First and foremost, with Miguel Herrera’s team going into the match two points behind their opponents in Group B, a victory is required to ensure what should be a more straightforward task in the last eight. But, following another frustrating night in front of goal in a scoreless draw with Guatemala last time out, there is also pressure to produce a performance of the quality required to recapture the Gold Cup.
Mexico began their attempts to land the trophy and a playoff with the United States for a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup with an emphatic 6-0 win over a disheveled Cuba side. But things were much tougher going on Sunday, when, despite having more than 80 percent possession, Mexico could force just four shots on target and failed to break through a Guatemala team that was down to 10 men for the final 14 minutes and had been beaten 3-1 by Trinidad just three days earlier.
For Mexico, it was an all too familiar story. Honduras had caused headaches for El Tri just ahead of the Gold Cup with a similarly physical, defensively minded formula. And, going back even further, Mexico fans may have endured unwelcome flashbacks to the team’s tumultuous attempts to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, which featured four goalless draws.
On paper there is little reason for El Tri’s struggles. In terms of pure talent, it would be difficult to argue that Mexico don’t have the most talented collection of attacking players in Concacaf. Even with Javier “Chicharito” Hernández out injured, Herrera can call upon arguably the country’s most talented player, Carlos Vela, Oribe Peralta, with 19 international goals, and the gifted Giovani dos Santos.
Yet, more than individual failings, it is the formula that has looked questionable. Having been completely committed to a 5-3-2 formation since taking charge at the end of 2013, Herrera made a switch to 4-4-2 just ahead of the Gold Cup. Yet that has meant one of Mexico’s standout players right now, fresh from a superb season with Porto, Hector Herrera, being pushed out of the center of midfield and onto the right flank. Meanwhile, wing-backs Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar, previously a key part of Mexico’s attacking threat, are constrained at full-back.
There are, though, key reasons for sticking with the current formation. With Héctor Moreno out injured, the squad’s options at center-back are limited. Also missing is Rafa Márquez, who played a prominent role in orchestrating Mexico’s attacks from the center of a back three when brought back to the side ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
Thus, rather than shift the basic shape of the team, Herrera may be tempted to bring in winger Carlos Esquivel, who impressed ahead of the Gold Cup, and move Herrera back to the center where he can have more of an influence. Dos Santos could also be called upon from the start in order to add more ingenuity to the attack.
Certainly Mexico will be desperate to avoid a defeat, which could lead to them falling into third place and potentially having to face a quarterfinal against the United States. In contrast, a victory would mean Mexico taking on either the third-placed team from Group A -- Panama -- or the, yet to be decided, third-placed team from Group B.
Prediction: There could be further difficulties for Mexico in trying to get past a Trinidad team that has reason to be in confident mood. Yet, with their opponents already safely qualified, Mexico should find a way through to claim victory and top the group.
Predicted score: Mexico 1-0 Trinidad and Tobago