The atmosphere is sure to be intense when an under pressure Mexico host the United States in the famed and hostile surroundings of the Estadio Azteca in a crucial World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.
Prior to Friday’s results, the talk was of the struggles for the U.S., but it is now very much their great regional rivals that badly need the points in a hotly anticipated contest in Mexico City.
Mexico took a 2-0 lead in Honduras, but succumbed to emerge from San Pedro Sula with just a draw and leave them on two points after two matches of their Hexagonal campaign. In their opening match they suffered another frustrating tie at home to Jamaica.
A point ahead of Mexico is the U.S., which after losing their opening match in Honduras picked up a vital and controversial 1-0 win over Costa Rica. The match was played in a fierce blizzard just outside Denver with the pitch submerged in snow and the visitors have since complained to FIFA about the decision to play the match and are asking for it to be replayed. A decision has yet to be made.
If it holds, the result is a massive boost to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who went into the contest under mounting pressure. A Sporting News article earlier in the week carried quotes from several unnamed players voicing their criticisms at the former Germany star’s coaching style.
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Three points has certainly taken some of the immediate heat off of Klinsmann, who has yet to either improve the manner of performances or the results as it was hoped he would when replacing Bob Bradley in 2011. The snowy field in Colorado was hardly the idea place to display a more attractive style of play and it is unlikely to be on show at the Azteca either.
The standings in the Hexagonal means that the U.S. can got to Mexico knowing that coming away with a draw will be an excellent result.
Under Klinsmann, the U.S. have had success against teams of arguably greater quality setting out to play on the back foot. Wins by the only goal in Italy and Mexico have come from focusing on defense and hoping to strike on the counter and it is still an approach with which the U.S. seems more comfortable, rather than having to take the game to opponents.
The victory in the Azteca in August last year was incredibly the U.S.’s first ever win there in what has been a fixture dominated by the home side. In 14 World Cup qualifiers in Mexico, the U.S. have lost 14 times, with their best result being a 0-0 draw in 1997. It is a daunting task.
But Jamaica showed last month that it is possible to frustrate Mexico, even in the Azteca. On that night Mexico lacked imagination in the final third and, in truth, it was the visitors that had the better chances to claim the victory.
Mexico should be helped that by the fact that Oribe Peralta’s injury means that coach Jose Manuel de la Torre will select Javier Hernandez alone up front. As good a player as Peralta is, which he showed in Mexico’s Olympic triumph last year, the pairing with Hernandez made the side far more predictable.
Against Honduras on Friday, with the more complimentary Giovani dos Santos supporting him, Hernandez scored twice. The Manchester United striker will have to show that kind of clinical form rather than the profligate finishing he displayed in the friendly with the U.S. last year if Mexico are to make the most of what could well be limited opportunities on Tuesday.
De La Torre will be forced into two changes with defenders Jorge Torres Nilo and Francisco Rodriguez suspended. That is likely to mean that Hugo Ayala comes in in the center, with Carlos Salcido switching to left-back.
The decision on who replaces Salcido in the center of midfield will reveal much about De la Torre’s intentions. The two choices are the experienced Gerrardo Torrado or the younger and more attack-minded Hector Herrera. Given that it is a game that Mexico will be desperate to win, Herrera could and should be the preferred option.
Klinsmann will also have to make an enforced change, with Jermaine Jones suffering an ankle injury against Costa Rica and likely to be replaced by Maurice Edu.
The loss of Jones represents a blow to the U.S. with the Schalke man’s drive and combativeness in full evidence as he helped his side hang onto victory in the snow.
If Mexico can find space in the center of midfield and get the ball to their creative players in Dos Santos, Andres Guardado and Javier Aquino and they subsequently provide good service for Hernandez then it could be a long night for the U.S.
But the U.S., which will have gained confidence from their first Hexagonal win, will relish putting on a backs-against-the wall display and could just come away with a result to match that which Alexi Lalas, Roy Wegerle, Eric Wynalda and co. secured to help reach France ’98.
Betting Odds Mexico are significant favorites to get the victory at 11/20 with Bet 365. A draw is priced at 14/5, with a win for the U.S. available at 11/2.
Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa, Jose Corona, Alfredo Talavera
Defenders: Hector Moreno, Severo Meza, Hugo Ayala, Enrique Perez, Adrian Aldrete
Midfielders: Jesus Zavala, Manuel Viniegra, Edgar Gerardo Lugo, Pablo Barrera, Andres Guardado, Angel Reyna
Forwards: Elias Hernandez, Aldo de Nigris, Javier Hernandez
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando
Defenders: Tony Beltran, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Justin Morrow
Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Joe Corona, Brad Davis. Maurice Edu, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea, Graham Zusi
Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd, Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson