After stuttering to a goalless draw in what coach Miguel Herrera had described as a “must-win” game, Mexico now desperately need a positive result and performance against the Copa America hosts. Mexico’s poor form in their warm-up matches continued in Viña del Mar last Friday, when unable to break down a Bolivia team ranked as the worst in the competition and that hadn’t won a single match in the Copa America since they hosted it 18 years ago. It means the pressure will firmly be on El Tri when they take on Chile in front of a partisan home crowd in Santiago on Monday.
Herrera has repeatedly spoken with confidence that his team could make the final of South America’s showpiece event, despite reserving many of his top players for the quest to regain the Concacaf Gold Cup next month. But now his squad has been depleted further, with its most experienced player, 36-year-old captain Rafael Márquez, ruled out of the team’s final two group games with a thigh injury picked up during the match with Bolivia.
It leaves Mexico facing a major challenge going up against a Chile team that kicked off the competition with a 2-0 win over Ecuador and is motivated to lift the country’s first ever major international title. Herrera, though, remains upbeat.
“We will work for what it takes to play Chile” he said, reports the official Copa America website. “It is a team with skilled players, especially Alexis Sánchez -- he is a very dangerous guy. It will be a very difficult match and we will concentrate very hard in order to win the ball and keep it. The important thing is to stay strong.”
Citing Márquez’s injury, Herrera has broken with his usual approach of naming his starting lineup a day before matches, stating that he has yet to decide whether to go with a back five or back four against Chile. There would appear to be a compelling case to veer away from his previously trusted 5-3-2 formation. It was only when Márquez came off to be replaced by winger Javier Aquino and Mexico went to a 4-4-2 that they began to create chances in earnest. Whatever the decision, getting the maximum from Jesús “Tecatito” Corona, who again showed himself to be Mexico’s most dangerous player against Bolivia, is sure to be key.
But, as Herrera suggested, Mexico will also have to be fully aware of the threat posed at the other end by Chile’s star man, Sánchez. Arriving at the tournament fresh from an outstanding first season at Arsenal, the former Barcelona forward showed his quality in Chile’s opening match, producing a sublime pass to set up Eduardo Vargas to give Chile an unassailable 2-0 lead after Arturo Vidal’s penalty has opened the scoring. A victory against Mexico at the Estadio Nacional would secure Chile’s place in the quarterfinals of the Copa America, but defender Gonzalo Jara insists they aren’t yet getting carried away.
“We have a lot of desire to win something, but you have to be cautious,” he said. “We have the conviction to win the Copa America, but it won't be easy. For me, it's one of the most difficult Copas I've seen.”
The two sides also met in the group stage of the last Copa America, when Chile triumphed 2-1 in Argentina en route to topping the group, while Mexico crashed out without winning a single point.
Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: beIN Sports, beIN Sports en español
Live stream: beIN Sports Connect