After a desperately disappointing summer for Mexican soccer, El Tri will look to begin its healing process with a trip to take on El Salvador in a Concacaf World Cup qualifier on Friday. The result of the match in San Salvador will have no bearing on Mexico’s hopes of making it to Russia, with the team having taken maximum points from its first four qualifiers to seal its place in the final round Hexagonal with two fixtures to spare. But, after a 7-0 humiliation at the hands of Chile in the Copa America Centenario and an early exit at the Olympics, some positivity is sorely required.
And, for coach Juan Carlos Osorio, the pressure is firmly on. The Colombian had gone 10 matches unbeaten, winning nine, since taking charge last November heading into the quarterfinals of the Copa America. But the positivity surrounding both him and the team was spectacularly vanquished in the space of 90 minutes that saw Mexico suffer its worst ever defeat in a major tournament.
There was much speculation that Osorio’s first defeat might spell the end. It certainly wouldn’t have been an unusual turn of events for a federation that was on its sixth coach in two years. However, Osorio appealed for forgiveness and was allowed to continue in his role. But, not involved in the Olympics failure, he must now quickly set about restoring the faith both from the Mexican public and the federation.
A meeting with El Salvador should on paper provide a comfortable first outing to begin rebuilding his reputation. Mexico won 3-0 when the teams met in the reverse fixture at the Estadio Azteca in Osorio’s first game in charge.
Indeed, El Salvador has gone without a win in its last 11 games, dating back almost a year. Eight of those matches have been defeats, although the country still has a theoretical chance of finishing in the top two in the group and moving onto the Hexagonal, if it can win both its remaining games and have other results go its way.
However, preparations for the match have not been ideal for Osorio. Star striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez had already been ruled out of the double-header, which will also see Honduras visit the Azteca on Tuesday, after breaking his hand. And further injury blows have since followed. Porto attacker Jesus “Tecatito” Corona is sidelined with a collarbone problem, while defenders Paul Aguilar and Nester Araujo have also withdrawn. Elias Hernandez, Orbelin Pineda and Hugo Ayala have been called up in their place.
Despite the injuries in attack, there remains no place for Carlos Vela or Giovani dos Santos. While Vela has been frozen out for some time, despite scoring in the 3-0 win over El Salvador last November, Osorio stated publicly that Dos Santos, now at LA Galaxy, had rejected a call-up for the Copa America.
Instead, there is likely to be an opportunity for Raul Jimenez in the central striker role. The 25-year-old, who has struggled to hold down a regular place in the El Tri lineup, joins the squad on the back of goals in back-to-back games for Portuguese side Benfica.
The match will also see Mexico without Hirving "Chucky" Lozano. Widely rated as one of Mexico’s top prospects for some time and even linked with Manchester United, the Pachuca winger had a desperately disappointing Olympics, having been taken off at halftime in Mexico’s second game against Fiji and then getting himself sent off in the decisive group match against South Korea. That red card means he will be suspended for Friday's contest.
Prediction: El Salvador has drawn both its home matches so far in the qualifying group, against Honduras and Canada, and so it may not be quite the stroll to victory Osorio will be hoping for. Still, even with a lack of attacking sparkle and under considerable pressure to put in a strong performance, Mexico should emerge with a win.
Predicted Score: El Salvador 0-2 Mexico
Kickoff Time: Friday, 10:06 p.m. EDT