Despite marking his return to the Mexico side with two goals to inspire a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands, Carlos Vela will be on the sidelines in Belarus on Tuesday, with El Tri coach Miguel Herrera continuing his quest to develop two strong lineups. After a more than three-year absence, Vela make a spectacular comeback against the World Cup semifinalists in Amsterdam on Friday.
It was a performance, in tandem with fellow goal-scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, that fueled questions of "what might have been" had Vela not continued his self-imposed exile into this summer’s World Cup and thus missed out on his country’s agonizing loss to the Dutch in the Round of 16. But it also breeds much excitement for what lies ahead for El Tri in the medium and long-term future.
While finally cracking the quarterfinals of a World Cup in Russia in four years’ time remains the ultimate goal, at the forefront of Herrera’s mind is competing on two fronts in next summer's Copa America and Gold Cup. That challenge is why Herrera has, for the third month running, made sweeping changes to his lineup between back-to-back fixtures. In the Belarusian city of Borisov on Tuesday, Paul Aguilar will be the only player in the starting lineup who also started against the Netherlands.
Much of the attention is likely to focus on the reunion of the Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos in El Tri’s starting XI. The brothers graduated through Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy but have each had their struggles fulfilling early expectations. But both are now in tandem at Spanish side Villarreal, following Jonathan’s move to join his elder sibling this summer. Regular playing time has allowed 24-year-old Jonathan to follow in the footsteps of Vela in coming out of the international wilderness.
He will be joined in midfield by Jesus Corona, who will be looking for a similar impact on his second appearance to his first. The FC Twente man made an immediate impression after coming off the bench to make his debut against the Netherlands by teeing up Vela for his second goal. With Vela not starting in Belarus, Giovani dos Santos will link up in attack with Raul Jimenez, who will be looking to make the most of his opportunity having got precious few minutes on the pitch in recent weeks with new club Atlético Madrid.
It is defense that remains the area surrounded by the most questions, however. On Tuesday, Pachuca’s Hugo Rodriguez will make his first start for his country, alongside Julio Domínguez of Cruz Azul and Atlas’s Luis Venegas. Between them, the center-back trio has less than 10 appearances for El Tri.
Still, the task they face isn’t exactly a daunting one. Belarus have scored just two goals in their four qualifiers to date for Euro 2016 and, after an opening draw against Luxembourg, have lost three straight matches. Georgi Kondratiev resigned as coach last month, with his former assistant Andrei Zygmantovich losing his first match in interim charge, 3-0 to Spain on Saturday.
Mexico starting lineup:
D: Aguilar, Rodriguez, Dominguez, Venegas, Ponce
M: Dos Santos, Corona, Gonzalez
F: Dos Santos, Jimenez
Kickoff time: Noon ET
TV channel: ESPN News
Live stream: Watch ESPN