Mexico enter their final Copa America group match knowing that a win is required against Ecuador to be sure of progress to the quarterfinals. After a disappointing scoreless result with minnows Bolivia to open the tournament, El Tri put on a much more impressive showing to hold hosts and one of the tournament favorites Chile to a 3-3 draw on Monday. But a first victory in Rancagua on Friday is now required to ensure that Mexico at least make it through as one of the best third-place teams.
Coach Miguel Herrera, though, has always set his sights far higher than just making out of the group stage. With the next month’s Concacaf Gold Cup taking priority this summer, Herrera has taken a “B” strength squad to Chile, leaving the likes of Carlos Vela, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Giovani dos Santos and Héctor Moreno to prepare for the tournament in the United States. Still, Herrera insists the focus is on, not just beating Ecuador, but going all the way to the Copa America final.
“The only thought we have in our heads is winning, in every way, above every force, to win,” he said at his press conference on Thursday, according to the tournament’s official website. “Our goal is to get to the final.”
Mexico’s task has not been made easier by injuries that have hit an already stretched defense. Captain Rafael Márquez was injured in the team’s opening match and is now deemed unlikely to return before the end of the competition, while left wing-back Adrián Aldrete sprained an ankle against Chile and has only a possibility of returning for the closing stages. Herrera admitted that he didn’t yet know whether he would bring in a straight replacement for Aldrete in Efrain “Chispa” Velarde, or switch formations to four at the back.
“We still don't know if it's Chispa who will play or if we'll line up another way,” he said. “We're still a bit tired from the match against Chile, so we weren't able to work too well. We'll figure out if Chispa can play or if we'll bring in a midfielder and use a line of four.”
Mexico’s defenders will at least have plenty of familiarity with some of the attackers they will come up against on Friday. Ecuador stars Enner Valencia and Jefferson Montero played in Liga MX before moving to the English Premier League last summer, while forward Fidel Martínez currently applies his trade in Mexico.
Ecuador desperately needs the trio to perform, having been left in a hole by a hugely disappointing start to the Copa America. Following a defeat to Chile, Ecuador were stunned by Bolivia, falling 3-0 down by halftime before restoring some credibility to lose 3-2. Even a victory against Mexico would leave Ecuador needing other results to go their way in order to continue on in the competition. Still, coach Gustavo Quinteros has stressed that they retain belief heading into their final group match.
“It will be an important match... to undo the adverse situation we're in,” he said. “We could still qualify because we still could mathematically.”
Kickoff time: 5 p.m. EDT
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