Just eight days before kicking off its campaign, Mexico will begin its preparations for the Copa America Centenario in earnest on Saturday when taking on Paraguay in a friendly at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. El Tri will face off with Uruguay in its opening match in Group C, but before that will aim to continue the positive momentum that has built up since Juan Carlos Osorio took the reins last November.
Mexico has won all five matches under the Colombian, all achieved without conceding a single goal. Already a place in the final round Hexagonal of Concacaf qualifying for the 2018 World Cup has been achieved. Now the focus is on making a real mark against some of the world’s very best in the centenary celebration of South America’s championship.
But Osorio is not looking past the meeting with Paraguay, which he has suggested provides an ideal buildup for the meeting with Uruguay, and could see him change his tactics to adapt to the challenge.
"For us, it is very important,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “Paraguay traditionally is very similar to Uruguay, with very different players but with two men leading the attack, direct play, good in the air and a 4-4-2 formation. We’ll see if we use three central defenders.”
Osorio has already made some tough decisions regarding the makeup of his squad, with Carlos Vela and Jonathan dos Santos left out and Giovani dos Santos declining a call-up. Still, some notable questions remain about his first-choice lineup when the tournament gets underway.
One of the biggest is, not for the first time with Mexico, who will be the first-choice goalkeeper. Alfredo Talavera would appear to be leading the way after performing well in the toughest matches so far under Osorio, away at Honduras and on the road against Canada. But Jesús Corona has also featured for Osorio, while the most high-profile of the three, Guillermo Ochoa, is firmly back in the running after getting some much-needed playing time with La Liga side Malaga.
Speaking ahead of the Paraguay match, Osorio even suggested that he could rotate his goalkeepers based on the opponent. The former Sao Paulo coach was also keeping his options open regarding his attack. Javier “Chicharito” Hernández may not start the match, and Osorio even floated the idea of Chivas midfielder Carlos Peña playing as a false nine.
Mexico’s opponent is making its own Copa America preparations, and, after making the semifinal last year and final of the competition in 2011, Paraguay is not to be taken lightly. Coached by Ramón Díaz since 2014, Paraguay has not made quite such an impressive start to World Cup qualifying. Yet, despite winning just two of its first six matches to lie seventh in the 10-team table, it has held both Argentina and Brazil to draws.
Dealing a blow to its hopes, Paraguay will have to go into the Copa America without the player who has for so long been its talisman, Malaga striker Roque Santa Cruz. With the 34-year-old out with a knee injury, Díaz has called up 20-year-old Tony Sanabria, who spent this season on loan at Sporting Gijon from Italian giants Roma.
Kickoff time: 5 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, Univision, Univision Deportes