After Mexico started the final Hex with a scoreless draw at the Azteca, the question fans were asking was is this a blip, or a cause for alarm. over the course of the next 8 months the answer played out painfully, with poor play, even poorer coaching, and atrocious administration. The results, of course, spoke for themselves. The finger pointing that started back in February built to a surreal crescendo with TV Azteca's Cristian Martinoli's on air evisceration.
So here we are. Mexico's forgettable hex campaign left them outside the automatic qualifying zone, and now a two game playoff with New Zealand looms. Mexico has a play-in game for the first time in over 50 years. Back then, one of Mexico's greatest players at the time, Salavdor Reyes (one of the pillars of Guadalajara's Campeonisimo era) came through with a clutch goal to send Mexico to Chile 1962 over Paraguay.
Mexico's current coach, the fourth coach in a span of 2 months, Miguel Herrera, has veered away from using Mexico's best players, instead choosing to build his team using the club he coached, Club America, as his base. Sprinkle in a few players from Leon with the venerable Oribe Peralta, and there is the squad that will take the fields against the Kiwis.
No Chicharito. No Gio. No Vela (well, that was a given). No expats at all. To be fair, it is not as if these guys had distinguished themselves in the hex. Far from it. Aside from a double in Honduras, Chicharito's campaign will be remembered for some huge misses, and not the great Pele-like misses. Gio disappeared for most of the time he was on the field, mainly because he played out of position. At least that is what he would have you beleive. He said as much a few weeks ago before he was not called.
And we can't ignore the fact that when they did play together, Gio and Chich had 0 chemistry. Gio is a his best when he has a foil to play off of, and Javier is just not that kind of player. He is a goal scorer who needs the table set.
And that was Mexico's biggest problem in the hex. No midfield. No table setters. It is my position that a defensive midfield is akin to an offensive line. If the OL is below average, a team can have the greatest skill players on the planet and it just won't matter. Mexico's holding midfielders were abysmal, and provided 0 link up between the back and front lines. It left Mexico no other option than long balls down the flanks and center crosses that easily defended.
Herrera is looking to solve this problem with his regular Club America starter, Juan Carlos Medina, flanked by two Leon players. Carlos "gullit" Peña and Luis Montes. The initial feedback has been positive, but even if they just showed a pulse it would have been more that what Mexico had showed in the Hex.
The goal scoring responsibilities will fall to Oribe Peralta, who over the past few years has proven that he can step up and deliver in the biggest of moments for both club and country. The goal prevention system is a concern, though. And it should be when a player whose best years are in the rear view mirror like Rafa Marquez is called in to skipper the team and shore up the back.
Herrera is betting that his club side sprinkled with a few reinforcements will be the combination that solves Mexico's latest World Cup crisis. He eschewed the Euros, he said, because the travel, unfamiliarity with his system, and not enough time to adjust to the time difference and altitude. It is a big, big gamble.
And, frankly, it was a lose-lose situation. If he didn't call them, then people (including me) would complain that he was making a mistake by not even having players of that caliber on the bench. If he brought them over, then others would be fuming that the euros' poor form was the reason Mexico was playing this series to begin with.
But if there is one thing that can best summarize Miguel Herrera, the coach, is that he could give a fig what people think. He is a players' coach who does things his way. Moreover, he has a great ability to deflect the spotlight toward him and keep it off his players. It has worked so far at Club America.
FMF is gambling it will work these next two Wednesdays in late November so that Mexico will have their name in the glass bowl next month.