Having had little time to work with his players, and even less time to work with those based in Europe since taking over as Mexico coach last November, it is perhaps unsurprising that the identity of Miguel Herrera’s starting lineup to kick off the World Cup has continued to be shrouded in much mystery. On Thursday, Herrera appeared to finally fill in the gaps as to who will be in the XI when Mexico takes on Cameroon in Natal in a week’s time.
Ahead of Mexico’s final friendly against Portugal in Massachusetts, Herrera named his lineup, which he has long claimed would match that which he takes on Cameroon. Jesus Corona has come out on top in one of the key battles, getting the better of Guillermo Ochoa to start in goal. In defense, the experience of Francisco Rodriguez has been favored over the youth of Porto’s Diego Reyes to start alongside Rafa Marquez and Hector Moreno. As expected, the two wing-backs will be Paul Aguilar and, perhaps the most impressive player in these warm ups, Migeul Layun.
There will be an unfamiliar midfield three, with Jose Juan Vazquez the holder, flanked by Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado, who has previously been used in more defensive roles. And, in another of the most heated battles, Giovani Dos Santos came out on top over Javier Hernandez, Raul Jimenez and Alan Pulido to partner Oribe Peralta up front.
It is a team which has never started together before -- hardly ideal on the eve of the World Cup. It means the game against Portugal is massively important in trying to iron out any kinks in the team before the real business begins in Brazil. There were certainly plenty of issues on display in Mexico’s last friendly when it went down 1-0 to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Herrera was so perturbed that he elected to move away from his favored 3-5-2 formation early on.
Plenty of uncertainty also permeates the Portugal camp ahead of the World Cup. Against Greece last Saturday, coach Paulo Bento went with an unfamiliar 4-4-2 formation and it failed to pay off as Portugal limped to a goalless draw. The move was an attempt to try and deal with the unthinkable for Portugal: that Cristiano Ronaldo could miss the World Cup.
Having struggled with a muscle problem toward the end of a season with Real Madrid that culminated with him winning the Champions League, it was revealed earlier this week that the Ballon d’Or winner has an inflamed patellar tendon in his left knee. It is all-too obvious to point out that the loss of the man who has been the world’s best player over the past 18 months and whose brilliant hat-trick against Sweden last November took his country to the World Cup, will leave a cavernous hole.
As has been the case for so many years, Portugal lack a prolific striker, meaning that there is a huge onus on Ronaldo to provide the goals from out wide. Although Ronaldo’s exact status is unclear, he will again miss out against Mexico, meaning Bento will once more have to try and solve the conundrum of how Portugal can cope without its talisman.
Where to watch: The international friendly will kick off from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough at 8:30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2 and Univision Deportes, with a live stream available on Watch ESPN.