Having successfully negotiated the first hurdle of the post 7-0 rebuilding job, Juan Carlos Osorio will now aim to build some much-needed positive momentum ahead of the final round of World Cup qualifying when Honduras visits the Estadio Azteca on Tuesday. In its first outing since that Copa America Centenario annihilation at the hands of Chile, Mexico claimed a 3-1 victory in El Salvador on Friday.
While El Tri had already secured its place in the six-team Hexagonal that will decide which Concacaf sides make it onto Russia, the result came as a huge relief to Osorio. Such was the catastrophic nature of the Chile defeat that Osorio already found his future the subject of much discussion despite having gone unbeaten in his first 10 games in charge.
And for the first 45 minutes in San Salvador, it appeared that Osorio might be facing yet more uncomfortable questions. Mexico fell a goal behind to a penalty conceded by Jorge Torres Nilo and the scars of its heaviest ever defeat in a major tournament were visibly still raw.
But a halftime switch from Osorio helped the team get on top and in the end run out deserved winners. It was a case of job done as he began what he sees as the task of rebuilding faith in the team. Yet, if he is to secure his own future, there is plenty more work to do.
The real work will get going when the Hexagonal begins in November. And it could well be toughest hurdle for Mexico first up with a trip to take on the United States in Columbus. Ohio, where El Tri has lost 2-0 in the last four World Cup qualifying cycles.
But a tough examination awaits before that, on Tuesday, too. Indeed the visit of Honduras to the Azteca provides a warning to Osorio, in the unlikely event that he should need it, of the precarious nature of the Mexico job. Two years ago, Honduras went to the famous home of Mexican soccer and won 2-1, continuing Mexico’s near-disastrous Hexagonal campaign for the 2014 World Cup. A day later coach Juan Manuel “Chepo’ de la Torre paid with his job. In the next 14 months, Mexico went through four further coaches before turning to Osorio.
On Friday, Osorio’s side will encounter a team with plenty of motivation. While Mexico has long since booked its place in the Hexagonal, Honduras still has some work to do if it is to keep its hopes alive of reaching a third successive World Cup.
Coached by Jorge Luis Pinto, who led Costa Rica to the quarterfinals of the last World Cup and Honduras’ Olympic team to the semifinals in Rio last month, Honduras do, though, go into the final round of fixtures in prime position to progress with Mexico from Group A. A come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Canada on Friday means Honduras carries a three-point advantage and a five-goal edge in the goal-differential column over Canada.
A draw at the Azteca will be enough to ensure Honduras’ progress, while even a defeat may do, depending on the scoreline as well as Canada’s result at home to El Salvador.
Pinto has been keeping a close guard on his tactics and lineup for the game, with a drone even being flown over the team’s training in Mexico in an attempt to prevent any unauthorized viewers. He has, however, suggested that he will make a couple of changes from the lineup that secured a win over Canada.
Pinto and Honduras have also officially protested the selection of Mark Geiger to referee the match, citing his performance in last year’s Gold Cup semifinal between Mexico and Panama in which he made multiple controversial decisions that favored Mexico.
Mexico will be forced into a selection change, with Raul Jimenez joining the list of attacking absentees led by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Jesus “Tecatico” Corona after suffering a knee injury against El Salvador. Hirving “Chucky” Lozano is, however, available after serving a suspension.
Prediction: Mexico secured a hugely impressive 2-0 win in San Pedro Sula when the sides met last November, but El Tri was in a much better place back then. Osorio also had the attacking talents of Hernandez and Corona, who both scored that day, available. Honduras, under the tactically astute Pinto, is likely to set up to frustrate Mexico, knowing a draw will be enough. A stalemate may be in store.
Predicted Score: Mexico 1-1 Honduras
Kickoff Time: Tuesday, 10 p.m. EDT