In November 2021, a year or so ago, Mexico lost to USA and then to Canada in a five-day span, jeopardizing their ticket to the World Cup. They did not lose another qualifying game though and booked the tickets, finishing just after Canada and ahead of the Americans.
It would certainly have been a shock to see Mexico eliminated that early as this will be their eighth straight World Cup appearance. On seven previous attempts, they’ve always been sent home in the Round of 16. A curse – Quinto Partido, the curse of the fifth game – or not, the proud people of Mexico want more.
How do they play?
Mexico didn’t score for fun in qualifying, finding the net just 17 times in 14 games, but only allowed eight goals too. The finishing touch was actually a serious problem – according to advanced stats (xG or Expected Goals), Mexico should have scored 1.96 goals per game, but only managed 1.13 per game.
Statistically speaking, this team is very good, at least within CONCACAF standards. They excelled in ball possession as well as passing, had plenty of shots, and held the opponent at bay quite well. It remains to be seen how well this translates to the rest of the world, as their record against South American teams is rather woeful this year with just one win from matches against Ecuador, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, and Paraguay.
Why they can win?
They are one of the most experienced sides this time around. Yes, Rafa Marquez has finally retired, but 36-year-old Andres Guardado is going to be Mexico’s most capped player and will be going to his fifth World Cup, just like the extremely likeable 37-year-old goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who only seems to be relevant every four years. Most of the squad has been here before, now they just need to get things right.
Why they can lose?
This might be the weakest Mexican team in decades as there are only a few household names on the team. With goals lacking and first-choice striker Raul Jimenez being plagued by injuries, head coach Tata Martino has still not turned to former Manchester United starlet Javier Hernandez, despite the 34-year-old LA Galaxy man making himself available via media. If Jimenez and Sevilla winger Jesus Corona won’t be available, they lack the firepower.
The leading stars
The Ochoas and Guardados will provide valuable experience, but this is a perfect time to shine for Napoli’s fleet-footed winger Hirving “Chucky” Lozano. He was already an important figure four years ago, but now at the age of 27, he will be expected one of the leaders. With Napoli flying high this campaign, confidence should be no problem.
The fresh faces
After a horrific head injury two years ago, Wolverhampton striker Jimenez hasn’t quite reached the same level. If head coach Martino wants to pursue a different path, he can look to 21-year-old Santiago Gimenez, who joined Feyenoord this summer and has adjusted to Eredivisie nicely. Born in Argentina, he has chosen to represent Mexico, and can now have a go at his birth country.