Mexico and coach Juan Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre leave their stuttering World Cup qualifying campaign behind as they take to the field in Brazil to begin their Confederations Cup campaign against Italy on Sunday. El Tri have drawn five of their first six matches in the final round of Concacaf qualifying as their route to return to Brazil in 12 months’ time is proving far more problematic than expected.
Following gold-medal success at the London Olympic Games, the current pool of players was billed as a golden generation of talent, but under De la Torre they have yet to show their pedigree. Just hours before their flight took off for South America, Mexico failed to score for the third consecutive match at the Estadio Azteca and the fans responded at the final whistle of their goalless draw with Costa Rica with chants of “Chepo out.” The beleaguered manager probably couldn’t wait for the plane to take off.
Despite the continued absence of Carlos Vela from the international arena, there is plenty of talent for Mexico going forward. Yet, De la Torre has been unable to find or indeed decide upon the right attacking balance. He has repeatedly switched between playing another striker alongside Javier Hernandez and opting to have the gifted but inconsistent Giovani Dos Santos floating in behind the Manchester United forward.
Another problem is De la Torre’s conservative nature. Often in central midfield has been Jesus Zavala and Gerardo Torrado, who, while solid, provide little going forward. Oddly, though, while the defensive setup is problematic against lesser opposition that generally sits deep in Concacaf, it should serve Mexico well when coming up against more illustrious opponents in the Confederations Cup.
Certainly, they are unlikely to face a side looking to play off the back foot at the Maracana. Under Cesare Prandelli, the old stereotype of negativity and destructive tactics has been firmly abolished as the Azzurri have looked to be proactive with their possession-based approach.
After reaching the final of Euro 2012, Italy are handily placed in qualifying for next year’s World Cup as they are still undefeated and sit four points clear at the top of their group. Their performances in friendlies have not been as impressive, however, with Italy giving the impression of only raising their game for truly competitive action. Most recently they could only draw 2-2 against Haiti last week; a result that Prandelli described as embarrassing. It is encouraging that in the buildup, the Italian players have been making the right noises about taking the Confederations Cup seriously.
Prediction: Expect Italy to control possession with Andrea Pirlo holding fort in midfield, as Zavala and Torrado provide a protective barrier in front of Mexico’s back four. Dos Santos is likely to be given a start and may be asked to try and keep tabs on Pirlo, while also looking to create on the break. Much will depend as well on Mexico’s wingers, Javier Aquino or Pablo Barrera on one side and Andres Guardado on the other, who will need to provide service for Hernandez.
Mexico’s confidence is still likely to be low, however. Italy should control the match sufficiently and have enough firepower up front with Mario Balotelli and potentially also Stephan El Shaarawy to get the win.
Mexico 1-2 Italy
Match info: The Confederations Cup Group A match will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN.