Mexico go into their second match of the Confederations Cup, against Brazil, knowing that they will need to finally find some form to avoid returning home at the earliest opportunity. An opening 2-1 defeat to Italy largely continued their run of poor performances in 2013, which has also seen them stuttering in World Cup qualification, and means a further defeat will almost certainly see them exit at the group stage. While progressing at the Confederations Cup will not be top of El Tri’s priorities, if they cannot show real improvement in Brazil then Juan Manuel de la Torre may yet pay with his job.
Mexico’s central problem in their Hexagonal campaign has been a lack of an attacking threat, while their defensive record of two goals conceded in six matches has been excellent. But against an Italian side that, unlike the teams Mexico face in Concacaf, was prepared to attack, their defense was also showed up. Captain Francisco Rodriguez was particularly culpable as the veteran repeatedly gave away possession in dangerous areas and then was easily brushed aside for Mario Balotelli’s winner. As those events transpired, one wonders what promising defender Diego Reyes was thinking sat on the bench.
The 20-year-old has signed for Portuguese champions Porto for next season, yet De la Torre has yet to show full faith in him at international level. The topic of whether the under pressure coach should show more belief in the promising next generation of Mexican talent comes into sharp focus with a match against the nation that they beat to win last year’s Olympic gold.
There was rightly much excitement then about a possible “golden generation” of Mexican talent, but they have yet to break through. If many of those players which performed so well in Britain are to be integrated ahead of next year’s World Cup then the Confederations Cup would appear to be an ideal place to do it.
As well as Reyes, De la Torre could also show greater boldness by selecting another member of the gold-medal-winning side Hector Herrera in place of 34-year-old stalwart Gerardo Torrado in central midfield. The fear is, though, that De la Torre’s conservative nature will not permit that to happen.
Mexico can take some confidence from their fine record against Brazil in recent years, including victory in the final of the 1999 Confederations Cup. But the Selecao showed that they mean business in an opening 3-0 win over Japan. After plenty of doubts about their current state coming into the tournament, a stunning strike from Neymar after just three minutes appeared to calm the nerves of both players and spectators as the side produced perhaps their best performance since the return of Luis Felipe Scolari as coach.
Neymar put in a fine performance before being taken off with an injury, which he is set to recover from in time for the Mexico game. But equally, if not more, impressive was Chelsea’s Oscar. With the pace of that pair as well as Hulk breaking at speed against Mexico, there could be more struggles if Rodriguez and, indeed, fellow veteran defender Carlos Salcido are given the start.
Brazil remain far from the finished article and the balance of their central midfield remains a work in progress, but that is also a weakness for El Tri. While Giovani dos Santos put in his best performance in an Mexican shirt in some time against Italy, the Mallorca man cannot help Mexico compete against this level of opposition single-handedly. It is difficult to see anything other than another victory for the hosts on Wednesday and then, perhaps, with nothing at all to play for in the final game De la Torres will finally make the team selections to reenergize the Mexican public.
Prediction: Brazil 3-1 Mexico
Coverage details: The Confederations Cup Group A match will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Coverage will be provided by ESPN.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.