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Jack: A World Cup without Mexico is now a real possibility

Kristian Jack
9/10/2013 11:35:39 PM
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2-0, 2-0, 2-0, 2-0.

Four times Mexico has visited Columbus to play the United States in the Hex and every time they have boarded the plane home losing 2-0.

This time, though, it feels very different for El Tri. Two of the previous three matchups with their arch rivals came at the start of the group, when Mexico had no danger of not qualifying, while in September of 2005, Mexico lost but still went home on 16 points through seven matches and were virtually secure of their spot in Germany 2006.

Now, in the final stages of CONCACAF qualifying for Brazil 2014, the region's biggest powerhouses are in deep trouble.

They entered Tuesday's match with many expecting them to eventually kick it up a few gears and find a way to reach one of the top three automatic qualifying spots, particularly after the firing of coach Jose Manuel de la Torre following Friday's loss to Honduras.

They left Tuesday's match in further disarray.
 
It has to be said; the American side they came up against was far from an exceptional one. Missing key players through suspension and injury, Jurgen Klinsmann's men played more like an away side, sticking to their disciplined shape and looking to break Mexico down on the break and through set-pieces.

It worked. Eddie Johnson's header from Landon Donovan's corner in the 49th minute set them on their way before Donovan sealed the deal in the 78th when he poked home Mix Diskerud's cross after the visitors fell asleep on a throw-in.

It was a night of errors for the away side. Goalkeeper Jose Corona's ludicrous surge out of his goal in search of the ball allowed Johnson to head into an empty net, while Donovan embarrassed right back Hiram Mier when he stepped inside the defender at the back post.

Moments such as these, which cost them the game, will be, quite rightly, blazed across highlight shows across the continent, but those who watched the entire match will know far more concerns for Mexico exist than just mental mistakes in front of their own goal.

Klinsmann's tactics were not only perfect for the team he had available to him but also said everything about Mexico's inefficiency in the final third. El Tri have now played eight matches in the Hex and scored four goals. Klinsmann didn't think they could break his team down and he was right.

In the opening 20 minutes Mexico showed signs of life, pressing high up the pitch, exploding on transitions and exposing the US's weak right side but the longer the first half went on the more they grew frustrated and lacked ideas.

So often when things aren't going well for a team they can look like a team of individuals and that's what has started to happen to Mexico. Any cohesiveness in their attacking game has disappeared, the tempo in which they pass the ball is far too slow and their lack of movement has become very easy to defend against.

It is a remarkable fall from grace for a side that features many of the players who won gold at the Olympics in London last summer. This Mexico team is not full of older players on the decline. Carlos Salcido aside (who was good enough to be one of the precious over-age players in the squad for London 2012), this team is full of young, energetic, skillful players. Right now they look lost, without a spark and out of ideas.

It is not usually this tough for El Tri. In the previous four Hex formats - since the process was changed for the 1998 World Cup - Mexico have finished in the top two of qualifying each time, obtaining anywhere between 17 and 22 points each time in the 10 game group stage. By now they are usually on cruise control towards the finals.

Instead, they have eight points from eight matches and, after Panama secured a late draw in Honduras on Tuesday, sit fifth and out of the qualification positions altogether.

This means Honduras, who are still huge favourites to advance, Panama and Mexico will battle for one automatic spot between them with the team who finish fourth forced to play New Zealand, the winners of the Oceania qualifiers, over two legs to advance to the World Cup.

Honduras (11 pts) finish with Costa Rica (h) and Jamaica (a)
Panama (8pts) finish with Mexico (a) and USA (h)
Mexico (8pts) finish with Panama (h) and Costa Rica (a)
Mexico, despite their endless list of current problems, should still beat the All Whites, but the biggest story of this qualifying round is, without doubt, the fact they might not get a chance to do so. Panama, ahead of Mexico on goals scored, are El Tri's next opponents in what promises to be a dramatic match at The Azteca on October 11th. Anything other than a win for Mexico in that game will likely signal the end of their qualification campaign with Panama ending their schedule at home to an already qualified USA.

Mexico have a month to get it right. A month when another new coach is most likely to be appointed during a time when many of their players struggle to find valuable minutes with their club teams.

These are not good times for Mexican football. The strange thing is; should they manage to reach Brazil I think they could do very well. It is now or never for El Tri.




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