Mexico cruised through World Cup qualifying but need big-game edge

Mexico cruised through World Cup qualifying but need big-game edge
From ESPN - October 7, 2017

Qualifying for Russia 2018 turned out to be a breeze for Mexico, but El Tri's goal always extends beyond simply reaching the World Cup. For a country that has reached the Round of 16 in the last six editions of the tournament, the target, as always, is to break the glass ceiling and make the quarterfinals.

Here are five issues that coach Juan Carlos Osorio will have to find solutions to if Mexico is to do that:

The big-game hurdle

The theory goes that Osorio's team has done well in the confines of CONCACAF qualifying, but when it steps up onto the world stage it has come unstuck. The 7-0 defeat to Chile in the quarterfinal of the Copa Centenario is Exhibit A, with the 4-1 loss to Germany in the Confederations Cup semifinal further evidence.

The Chile loss was particularly worrisome due to its nature, and a "mental coach" was hired after that. But Mexico's trend of falling short of the elite is not new. El Tri's combined record in 146 games against the eight countries that have won a World Cup is 29 wins, 43 draws and 74 losses. In other words, Mexico has long been a respected team, without really being feared.

The problem Osorio has in fixing it is that there are no competitive matches between now and the first group stage game to work on the issues.

Trips to Belgium and Poland in the November international window will be crucial for building confidence. And in the March friendlies, and ahead of the World Cup in late May and June, the Mexican federation is trying to get the highest quality opponent possible.

They may only be friendlies in the general scheme of things, but for Mexico the games are of utmost importance. El Tri will almost certainly have to overcome a big team if it is to reach the quarterfinals in Russia and needs every bit of confidence it can soak up between now and June.

Rafa Marquez's eligibility

There have been more positive rumblings surrounding Rafa Marquez's possible return to the field following his sanction by the U.S. Treasury Department in August for alleged ties to a drug trafficking organization.

Before being sidelined, the 38-year-old Marquez was on course to join an elite group of two -- Antonio Carbajal and Lothar Matthaus -- who have appeared at five World Cups. And Marquez was hoping to become the first player in history to captain a side at five editions of the tournament.

Marquez has been allowed back to train with Atlas, but even if he is given permission to return to Mexico's first division between now and next May, there has to be a major question mark about whether the veteran can reach the level required to play a significant part.

However, his absence would leave a leadership void. No one can deny his influence around camp.

Finding a solution for the holding midfield role


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