After a tumultuous start, the year ended on a real high note for Mexico’s national team, providing plenty of cause for optimism heading into what could be a big 2016. Now under the charge of Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio, Mexico are in a commanding position to breeze through to the final round of World Cup qualifying, while they will also fancy their chances of making a real impact in the Copa America Centenario.
Certainly the mood surrounding the team is far healthier than it was just a few months ago. Almost universally popular for his efforts in rejuvenating Mexico’s fortunes at the 2014 World Cup, Miguel Herrera had been treading on increasingly shaky ground, both due to the team’s performances on the pitch and some of his behavior away from it. The key objective of winning the Gold Cup was ultimately achieved but not without stumbles along the way and the benefit of some incredibly fortunate refereeing decisions. It was perhaps an ideal outcome from the Mexican Football Federation’s point of view that Herrera’s alleged assault on a commentator following the tournament gave them the chance to start afresh.
Despite continued instability, Mexico again found a way to be successful. Tigres coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti took temporary charge and guided El Tri to victory in their biggest match of the year, beating the United States at the Rose Bowl to earn passage to the 2017 Confederations Cup. And his permanent replacement has made an impressive start to his reign, with Osorio guiding the team to victories over El Salvador and Honduras to begin World Cup qualifying.
In a group also containing Canada, Mexico should have little trouble securing a place in the final round Hexagonal. Indeed, two victories in the double-header against Canada in March would send them through even before having to tackle return matches against El Salvador and Honduras in September.
But the most exciting and biggest test for Mexico will come during the summer, when it joins five other teams from Concacaf and the full 10 from South America in the Copa America Centenario. And El Tri’s hopes of going far have already been helped by being named as one of the four top seeds for the tournament, alongside hosts the U.S., Brazil and Argentina.
That is far from a guarantee of success. As Mexico found out to their cost as an invitee to this year’s Copa America, there is plenty of strength in depth in South America. Yet this time around, Mexico is likely to have a stronger squad together than when taking what was essentially a “B” team to Chile.
And Mexico’s group-stage exit from this year’s Copa America wasn’t wholly negative. It saw the real emergence of Jesús “Tecatico” Corona on the international stage and the 22-year-old attacker has continued to flourish since. Now at Portuguese giants Porto, he has scored six goals in the league this season. And he further earmarked himself as surely a key player for Mexico going forward by scoring a superb goal in Honduras last month.
Corona’s skilled touch and volley was quickly followed by a similar moment of individual skill from another young Mexican attacker who could make a big impression on the national team in 2016. Lightning quick winger Jürgen Damm netted his first international goal against Honduras and subsequently played a prominent role in Tigres’ run to the Liga MX Apertura title. There are now strong rumors that he could be set to join Corona in Europe during the January transfer window.
If he does complete a transfer, he will not be the only Mexican to make the move to Europe this summer. Marco Fabian has already sealed a deal to leave Chivas and join Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt. And it will now be fascinating to see whether the 26-year-old attacking midfielder can consistently deliver on his undoubted huge talent and become a real force for his country.
But the most encouraging development for El Tri fans could well be concerning a player already long established in the national team. Javier “Chicharito” Hernández’s career had been drifting after struggling for first-team action at Real Madrid and Manchester United, taking a toll on his performances for Mexico. But he has been spectacularly rejuvenated since joining Bayer Leverkusen, scoring 19 goals in just 22 appearances. If he can continue that form, then Osorio’s men will carry a real goal threat against any opposition in 2016.
Mexico 2016 schedule (confirmed fixtures only)
Feb. 10: vs. Senegal (Marlin’s Park, Miami)
March 25: at Canada (BC Place, Vancouver)
March 29: vs. Canada (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)
June 5: Copa America Centenario Group C (University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona)
June 9: Copa America Centenario Group C (Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California)
June 13: Copa America Centenario Group C (NRG Stadium, Houston)
Sep. 2: at El Salvador (TBD)
Sep. 6: vs. Honduras (TBD)