Mexico secured its progress to the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying on Tuesday night at the Azteca with the most impressive record of all the six teams that will now compete for a place in Russia. With five wins, one draw, 13 goals scored and just one conceded, that should perhaps be a cause for celebration for Mexico and coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who took charge before the semifinal round began last November.
But the scars of the solitary defeat of Osorio’s reign continue to cast a dark cloud over El Tri and the Colombian in particular. In the team’s first match back in Mexico since the 7-0 defeat to Chile in the quarterfinals of the Copa America Centenario, Osorio was treated to calls of “Fuera Osorio” [Osorio out] from some in the crowd at the Azteca as Mexico struggled to a goalless draw against Honduras to round out the group.
While there is no indication that the Mexican Federation intends to act on those cries from supporters, they showed just how difficult Osorio’s job is moving forward. Since the loss to Chile, Osorio has repeatedly acknowledged the need to rebuild the Mexican public’s faith in him and the team. Yet if that goal is to be met there is little, if any, margin for error.
Osorio is the sixth man to take charge of Mexico in three years and he will be well aware that his next slip up could be his last. The start of the Hexagonal in November is crucial to Osorio’s hopes of making it to Russia, and, in that light, Mexico’s schedule could not have thrown up a more challenging opening fixture.
The first game on Nov. 11 will see Mexico travel to take on its fierce rivals the United States at a venue that may not be the most illustrious in world soccer but which has proved an impenetrable fortress for El Tri in recent years. In its visits to Columbus, Ohio in the last four World Cup qualifying cycles, Mexico has been dealt a 2-0 defeat on each occasion. “Dos a Cero” has become an increasingly painful line to taunt a country that once dominated the region.
With the U.S. having reached the semifinals of the Copa America Centenario and in recent days having run out emphatic victors over St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, it promises to be an arduous task for Mexico to turn around its recent record in Columbus.
Things do no not get a whole lot easier for Mexico in its second match four days later. A trip to take on Panama is likely to see Mexico welcomed with a hostile reception and a team desperate for victory. At last year’s Gold Cup, Mexico beat Panama 2-1 in the semifinals, but only after a string of highly controversial decisions, including a penalty deep into injury time. Revenge will surely be on the mind of the host.
After the draw with Honduras, captain Andres Guardado looked to the positives of facing a tough beginning to the Hex, as well as enthusiastically backing Osorio. But while Mexico will still have the chance to recover from a slow start and make it to the World Cup, as it did four years ago, Osorio is unlikely to be so fortunate.
Mexico World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal Schedule
Nov. 11, 2016: at USA (Columbus, Ohio)
Nov. 15, 2016: at Panama (Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City)
Mar. 24, 2017: vs. Costa Rica (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)
Mar. 28, 2017: at Trinidad and Tobago (Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain)
June 9, 2017: vs. Honduras (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)
June 13, 2017: vs. USA (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)
Sep. 1, 2017: vs. Panama (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)
Sep. 5, 2017: at Costa Rica (Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, San Jose)
Oct. 6, 2017: vs. Trinidad and Tobago (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)
Oct. 10, 2017: at Honduras (Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula)