Both Mexico and Nigeria will accelerate their preparations for the World Cup when the meet in a friendly at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Wednesday. It represents the last chance for each of the nation’s coaches to evaluate many of their players before they are required to name their provisional squad for this summer’s tournament on May 13.
Mexico’s Miguel Herrera was thrust into the climax of El Tri’s tumultuous qualifying campaign ahead of last November’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand. Despite the must-win nature of the tie, he elected to go without those plying their trade in Europe and was then forced to do likewise in January’s friendly victory over South Korea. Now for the first time he has the stars from across the Atlantic at his disposal and he faces a race against time to not only decide which ones to take to Brazil, but to try and integrate them into a team that has impressed in their absence.
The biggest name who will be back in the fold against Nigeria will be Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. The Manchester United striker has had a difficult past year with his lack of appearances for his club being compounded by his struggles in his national team’s colors. But Herrera had some positive words for the 25-year-old, while insisting that his squad is far from fixed.
“There are still two and a half months," he said during a press conference last week, according to ESPN. "I have some names in my head. Javier has the attitude, determination and is training very well. Physically he is in good shape and has 30 goals with El Tri."
Another of the Europe-based stars will not be in action, however. Villarreal’s Giovani dos Santos has been ruled out with a calf injury that is causing more than a few worries so close to the big event in Brazil.
Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi has taken a similar approach to Herrera during his time in charge. For so long, Nigeria was known as a country that produced some fine individual talent but often self-destructed when it mattered. But the former Togo coach turned that notion on its head in last year’s African Cup of Nations when he led a squad built around domestic-based players to a surprise first title since 1994.
Keshi’s powerful personality has not only meant that he is able to turn his back on some of his bigger name players but also stand up to his country’s footballing authorities, who appear determined to undermine his achievements at every turn.
Keshi has again showed his steel in opting not to name Ikechukwu Uche to his squad, despite the striker having scored 12 goals in La Liga this season with Villarreal. He has concern over some of the high-profile players he has named to his squad, too. Neither John Mikel Obi, with Chelsea, or Victor Moses, on loan from Chelsea at Liverpool, have been getting regular playing time this season. Another player currently operating in the Premier League, Joseph Yobo, had been recalled for the fixture with Mexico, but the Norwich City defender has since been ruled out through injury.
Where to watch: The international friendly will kick off at 8.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN News, Univision Deportes and UniMas, with a live stream on Watch ESPN and UnivisionDeportes.com.