Mexico will bid farewell to legendary forward Cuauhtemoc Blanco at the Estadio Azteca on Wednesday night, but coach Miguel Herrera will know that the celebrations will have swiftly turn to focus on preparations for the World Cup. Blanco will win his 122nd and final cap for El Tri when he starts up front against Israel, but the retiring 41-year-old’s participation is set to be short-lived in what is Mexico’s only warm-up match on home soil before heading to Brazil.
After struggling abjectly in qualifying through the CONCACAF Hexagonal, Mexico have produced more encouraging performances since Herrera took charge toward the end of 2013 and led them to the World Cup via a playoff against New Zealand. The former Club America coach has lifted the spirits in and around the Mexico camp, but there is still much fine tuning to be done. After facing Israel, Mexico will take on Ecuador, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Portugal before their World Cup campaign begins against Cameroon on June 13. Herrera will be keen to maintain his unbeaten record on the international arena until then, but more importantly will be attempting to finalize his first-choice XI and get his players more comfortable with his 3-5-2 formation.
On Wednesday, Herrera will start without captain Rafa Marquez, other likely starters Carlos Pena and Hector Moreno, along with Giovani dos Santos, Luis Montes and Jose Juan Vazquez. All joined the squad late due to club commitments.
One of the most keenly contested positions for El Tri as they look to make it past the round-of-16 at a World Cup for the first time since 1986 is in goal. Against Israel, Jesus Corona will start, with Guillermo Ochoa waiting in the wings. Diego Reyes is the only probable starter among the center-backs who will begin on Wednesday, and, alongside veterans Carlos Salcido and Francisco Rodriguez, will aim to show he can flourish in a back three. Wing-backs Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar will simply be looking to cement their starting roles in the team, while, in contrast, midfielders Hector Herrera, Marco Fabian and Isaac Brizuela will be hopeful that strong showings can put them in Herrera’s mind for Brazil.
Alongside Blanco, Mexico’s form striker for the past year Oribe Peralta will get the start, with Javier Hernandez, Dos Santos, Alan Pulido and Raul Jimenez hoping for a chance off the bench.
Having imported a formation from club level that was unfamiliar to many of his squad, Herrera has predictably encountered teething problems. The problem of a lack of attacking thrust that beset Mexico through much of 2013 has been largely overcome, but the balance of the side still needs work when the team loses the ball.
Israel should present decent opposition for Mexico to test themselves. Eli Guttman’s side failed to make the World Cup but achieved some impressive results in a group containing Russia and Portugal, including two draws against the Portuguese. While Mexico will have their own celebration for Blanco, the Israel team will feature former Liverpool and Chelsea midfielder Yossi Benayoun, who will be making a record 95th appearance.
Where to watch: The international friendly will kick off from the Estadio Azteca at 9.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available via Watch ESPN.