Mexico and Nigeria will warm up for next month’s Confederations Cup with a friendly in Houston on Friday. But before they can think about the World Cup dress rehearsal, both countries have important qualifiers to negotiate in order to ensure that they will be returning to Brazil in 2014.
Mexico have surprised many with their poor start to the final round of Concacaf qualifying. The country was on a high following Olympic success last year in London, but Jose Manuel de la Torre’s side have begun the Hexagonal with three consecutive draws, including goalless home ties with Jamaica and the United States. There is much work to be done for De la Torre to try and find a successful formula, with his job will be on the line.
Controversy has arisen in the buildup with Mallorca being forced to release Giovani Dos Santos, despite the Spanish club facing a crucial relegation decider this weekend. He may, though, be saved for battles ahead. Following the match with Nigeria, Mexico face three quick-fire qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica that are likely to go a long way to deciding their and their manager’s fate.
Nigeria also face crucial qualifiers before taking their place in the Confederations Cup, including a potentially decisive clash against Malawai to decide which side will go forward into the playoffs for the World Cup.
For Friday’s friendly, coach Stephen Keshi will be without several of the players that led Nigeria to African Cup of Nations glory earlier this year. Chelsea’s John Mikel Obi and CSKA Moscow’s Ahmed Musa are among those who will sit out the friendly. Attacking trio Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses and Kalu Uche are absent through injury.
D: Meza, Rodriguez, Reyes, Torres Nilo
M: Herrera, Salcido
Barrera, Aquino, Guardado
F: Jiminez, Hernandez
D: Kwambe, Obobona, Ambrose, Echiejile
M: Oduamadi, Ogu, Nwachukwu, Mba
F: Akpala, Ujah
Prediction: Mexico’s biggest problem in 2013 has been a startling lack of creativity, combined with poor finishing that has led to a total of just three goals in five games. That has been a surprise given the creative abilities of Dos Santos, Andres Guardado, Javier Aquino, Pablo Barrera and quality forwards like Javier Hernandez and Oribe Peralta. De La Torre appears to have got the message that Hernandez and Peralta do not gel well as a pair, but it will be interesting if, likely without Dos Santos, he goes back to a two man front line here.
De la Torre needs to get the his team flowing in attacking area but he would also be helped by a better balance in midfield. Against weaker opposition the presence of left-back-turned midfielder Carlos Salcido offers very little. This friendly presents Hector Herrera with another chance to stake his claim as a dominant all-round midfield presence. Against a weakened Nigeria side, Mexico should get the win but it may not be all that convincing.
Mexico 1-0 Nigeria
Where to watch: The international friendly will kick-off from the Reliant Stadium in Houston at 9 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Univision, with a live stream available on UnivisionDeportes.com and ESPN3.