World Cup

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Shaky Mexico takes on Jamaica

THE HANGOVER
Mexico faces Jamaica on Tuesday in a World Cup qualifier.
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Kyle McCarthy

Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter.

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The memories of an appalling night at the Azteca linger as Mexico prepares to face Jamaica on Tuesday.

February saw Mexico open the Hex with a thud, and their 0-0 home draw against the Reggae Boyz was a painful misstep for a side heavily favored to secure a place in the World Cup. Two subsequent draws revealed the opening day result – one perhaps a bit fortunate in light of the chances generated and the performance produced by the Jamaicans on that February evening – as more of an indicator than an aberration.

Mexico’s overall record – six ties in six attempts – this year reinforces the surprising malaise within the Mexican ranks. The last of those stalemates, however, provides some room for hope ahead of this difficult trip to The Office.

Mexico desperately needed the fluid and incisive display produced in the 2-2 draw against an impressive Nigeria side in Houston on Friday night. Both qualities escaped El Tri for most of the first three qualifiers, but they may return with Giovani dos Santos’ return from Spain where he was stranded, unable to stop Mallorca's relegation from La Liga.

Dos Santos finally linked up with his teammates on Sunday ahead of the trip to Kingston, but his participation at the outset remains uncertain given his belated arrival and the success enjoyed in his absence. His creativity and his recent form recommend him. His previous performances after a lengthy flight and a short period to recuperate suggest a second-half appearance might suffice.

If dos Santos isn't ready to feature from the start, then José Manuel de la Torre may retain the 4-4-2 setup preferred against Nigeria. The ample benefits reaped against the Super Eagles – including a menacing display by Javier Hernández with Aldo De Nigris in support for the first half and a persistent wide presence on the right through the returning Pablo Barrera – might not necessarily materialize in a World Cup qualifier, but de la Torre may cling to them anyways after his side offered precious signs of vibrancy in the right areas.

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Resolve may ultimately prove more crucial in the first of a critical trio of World Cup qualifiers with Jamaica expected to press forward more ardently on home soil. Mexico coped poorly with the pace of Theodore Whitmore's side on the counter in Mexico City. The occasional defensive uncertainty against a weakened Nigeria side on Friday night indicated those issues – even with the resolute Carlos Salcido deployed at left back – have not dissipated entirely.

De la Torre must hope Héctor Moreno recovers from his thigh injury in time to provide the additional stability required ahead of this challenge. The mooted Barcelona and Chelsea target supplies a reliable and steady presence alongside captain Francisco Rodríguez. Diego Reyes' struggles on Friday night – including an ill-timed challenge that should have resulted in a penalty award – reinforced the dropoff if Moreno cannot feature.

Even if Moreno does not play, Mexico must still find a way to close down space in the right areas to facilitate its own ambitions and retain its shape. No matter the formation (somewhat mutable depending on the situation under Whitmore's astute guidance) and the personnel (again, there are few certainties here), Jamaica poses a threat when handed the opportunity to play vertically into space anywhere behind the back four and struggles when required to provide the proper service from the flanks. The onus falls on the collective unit to set the proper line and shunt the home side toward its less threatening qualities.

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The proper posture also creates an opportunity to thrive on the counter. Whitmore has established a compact and organized setup, but Barrera and Andrés Guardado can still catch the Jamaicans with incisive movements through the middle third as the home side starts to press. The combination play mustered against Nigeria bodes well for this group if the circumstances start to fall their way.

As the previous meeting between these two countries shows quite neatly, Jamaica does possess the tools to thwart Mexico on the right day. A reproduction of the draw in Mexico City isn't necessarily on the cards here, but the visitors will hope another painful memory – a 1-0 defeat on the last visit in 2008 – does not emerge once more at full time.

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