As he side prepares to kick off their Gold Cup campaign against Cuba on Thursday in Chicago, coach Miguel Herrera has admitted that anything other than lifting the trophy later this month would be a “failure.”
After falling at the semifinal stage two years ago, Mexico need to win the Concacaf championship in order to earn a playoff with holders the United States for a place at the Confederations Cup. But preparations for the tournament in the U.S. have hardly been ideal. A “B” squad in all but name was taken to the Copa America in Chile, but crashed out in the group stage, amid criticism for Herrera for matters both on and off the field. And ahead of the Gold Cup, El Tri have lost two of its key performers to injury, in striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and defender Héctor Moreno. Herrera still believes that Mexico have the quality to succeed, but is well aware that the pressure is on.
“Not winning would be a failure,” he said, according to the Mexican Federation. “The U.S. and Costa Rica are very strong, but we come with the mentality to win the Gold Cup.”
Herrera has made a bold decision ahead of the team’s first game, opting to ditch his long-favored 5-3-2 formation and field a 4-4-2. To some surprise, he has also selected Porto star Hector Herrera in a wide-right midfield role, rather than his regular central-midfield position. Instead, José Juan Vázquez will be partnered in the middle by Jonathan dos Santos. Meanwhile, the other Dos Santos brother will have to settle for a place on the bench at soldier Field, with Carlos Vela being joined by Oribe Peralta in attack. The forwards will be expected to get among the goals against Cuba, but Herrera has insisted that the margin of victory is not particularly significant.
“We know the score and if we don’t get a lot of goals the fans and media will be critical, but for us the important thing is to win,” he said. “The important thing is to get a result and have a good performance from the team.”
If Mexico’s preparations have been tough, they are nothing compared to those of their opponents. Cuba already suffered huge disappointment when getting knocked out of the running to qualify for the 2018 World Cup at their first hurdle by Curaçao last month. And the team could now be left short-handed for the match with Mexico after six players and coach Raúl González Triana encountered visa issues. On top of that, forward Keiler García was confirmed by assistant coach Walter Benitez to have gone missing from the camp, presumed to have defected.
"It's a risk to face Mexico with six players gone,” Benitez said, reports USA Today. “We're trying to look at the group that we already have now. Just going to have to ask our players to do the best they can.”
Kickoff time: 9:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes, UniMás