Mexico opts for stability after revealing 23-man World Cup roster
MAY 09, 2014 3:43p ET
For the first time in quite a while, Mexico passed through a pivotal moment on the road to the World Cup with its expectations firmly in place.
There were no crises to handle, no surprises to sidestep before the unveiling of the World Cup roster on Friday afternoon. Miguel Herrera just needed to confirm the names everyone expected and proceed onwards with the business of molding a unit capable of succeeding in Brazil.
Herrera fulfilled his brief by revealing a 23-man squad with few, if any, surprises. He made no dramatic, last-minute changes to upend his plans. He instead plumped for the sort of pragmatic security required to lay the necessary groundwork and meet the quarterfinal objective he subsequently laid out.
“It was very difficult to make the list,” Herrera said during his press conference in Mexico City. “There were many hours of good discussions, but the decision and the responsibility is ultimately mine.”
This squad possesses the tools to satisfy that lofty standard, though the path to the last eight remains a perilous one. The inclusion of Giovani dos Santos – an enigmatic and wildly talented figure ill-suited to Herrera’s tactical structure – represented a nod to the need for top-end quality to navigate through the Group A gauntlet against Brazil, Cameroon and Croatia. Carlos Salcido’s return to the side suggested the need for additional experience and versatility to cope with the rigorous challenges ahead.
By including dos Santos and Salcido, Herrera showed the sort of flexibility required to thrive in a tournament setting. The former Club América boss spent much of the early stages of his reign imposing his 5-3-2 setup and outlining his preferred and specific approach to this evolving group. Those early alterations were necessary to provide the proper boundaries for a group desperately in need of structure, but a strict adherence to the remedial work done would have created some cause for concern.
Some of the measures taken here reflect the diversification necessary to prepare El Tri to higher levels. Herrera made the excruciating decision to omit Moisés Muñoz from his goalkeeping trio in favor of Guillermo Ochoa and Alfredo Talavera. He swapped Salcido into the squad in place of the out-of-form Topo Valenzuela to add more dexterity to his defensive options. He took domestic standouts Alan Pulido and José Juan Vázquez to increase the competition for places.
“These decisions are made with the head, not the heart,” Herrera said. “We have tried to retain the top players or players who are in good form.”
There were natural limits to those efforts, though. Herrera made room for one awkwardly situated Villarreal player in dos Santos, but he shunted natural winger Javier Aquino to the side despite some promising displays in Spain. There were no last gasp overtures to tempt Carlos Vela back into the fold. And Maza Rodríguez kept his spot on the plane despite some creaking displays for América over the past few weeks.
Herrera opted to name his familiar group at this juncture as a nod to his own experiences as one of the final cuts from El Tri in 1994 and as a way to train his focus solely on the players expected to contribute in Brazil. Some managers – US boss Jürgen Klinsmann, most notably – opted for a more expansive approach to plan for contingencies and run the rule over the options one last time. Herrera joined Brazil’s Luiz Felipe Scolari and England’s Roy Hodgson by skipping that route entirely.
In this case, it is a prudent decision. The last thing Mexico needs at this stage is more drama and tumult on the eve of the World Cup. This group – rocked by a halting qualification campaign and the turnover in the dugout before locating firmer ground earlier this year – requires consistency and faith to prepare properly for the task ahead.
Herrera provided certainty on Friday. There is plenty of work ahead to meet the lofty expectations and return to the knockout stage for a sixth consecutive tournament, but the ability to chart a course and stick with it bodes well as El Tri starts its preparations for Brazil next week.