There will be much more than pride at stake when Mexico and Japan meet to close out their Confederations Cup campaigns in Belo Horizonte. After two defeats each, both sides have already been eliminated, but the match could yet have real significance for Mexico. The trip to Brazil has failed to yield the welcome relief from their struggles in World Cup qualifying and Jose Manuel de la Torre’s job must surely be in some jeopardy.
El Tri went down limply, belying the 2-1 result, against Italy and, while there was plenty of effort showed against Brazil they remained toothless in attack. De la Torre must take much of the blame for his side’s continued struggles going forward.
His conservatism was in full evidence against the hosts as, 1-0 down late on and with Mexico having some success getting down the flanks, the beleaguered coach failed to throw on another forward. Raul Jiminez was not introduced until three minutes from the end when the young striker could well have earlier profited from a number of crosses put into the box that were instead met by a Brazilian.
The match also featured De la Torre once again switching his formation as he has done almost on a match-to-match basis in an attempt to get the best out of his personnel. What continues to shine through, though, is his focus on defense at the cost of getting the best out of the squad’s attacking talent. What’s more, against higher-quality opposition, Mexico’s back line, and Francisco Rodriguez in particular, has shown itself unable to withstand the pressure that De la Torre’s philosophy invites.
With just one win in 2013, a victory against Japan could be pivotal to De la Torre still being in charge when Mexico’s World Cup qualifying campaign gets back underway in September. Still, the 47-year-old does not seem to believe his side’s performance in the Confederations Cup will count against him.
“We've not achieved our objective," he said, according to FIFA.com. "But it's not a setback. We're on track. The principal objective is qualification for the World Cup. In this competition, we didn't manage it. That's how it is."
Getting back on track will not be straightforward against a Japan side that against Italy showed the quality that made them the first team to qualify for next year’s World Cup. Alberto Zaccheroni’s side suffered an agonizing 4-3 defeat to the Azzurri after being 2-0 up early on and then being the side looking the likelier to grab a winner when it was 3-3 late in the game. Yet, while Japan displayed their ability on the ball in that contest, they also continued to demonstrate a naivety and defensive vulnerability that ultimately cost them any chance of progressing to the last four.
D: Flores, Rodriguez, Moreno, Salcido
M: Torrado, Herrera
Aquino, Dos Santos, Guardado
D: Uchida, Yoshida, Konno, Nagatomo
M: Hosogai, Endo
Okazaki, Honda, Kagawa
Prediction: Japan will be missing midfielder Makoto Hasebe through suspension, while Mexico will be unable to call upon striker Aldo De Nigris, who has a knee injury. With Japan’s strength being in the midfield, it seems unlikely that De la Torre will elect to start with Jiminez alongside Javier Hernandez. Yet, in truth, there is no reason for the coach not to throw in more of the young talent that did so well in winning Olympic gold last year. The one member of the next generation that may come in is forward-thinking midfielder Hector Herrera.
If they do look to be positive, Mexico could get plenty of joy from a Japanese defense that is far from rock solid. But the Asian champions will also be feeling the same way about Mexico’s back line. El Tri fans may finally see some goals from their side, but they may still not witness a win.
Mexico 2-2 Japan
Where to watch: The Confederations Cup Group A match will kick-off from the Estadio Mineirao at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on Watch ESPN.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.