Mexico rallies around Cuauhtémoc Blanco and El Tri before farewell friendly v. Israel
MAY 28, 2014 12:00a ET
Mexico scheduled exactly one friendly on home soil in the buildup to the World Cup. The date against Israel at Estadio Azteca on Wednesday night isn’t on the docket to determine positions in the team or work on tactical concerns. There is still time to make the difficult decisions and tweak the shape in less conspicuous locations over the next fortnight or so.
Instead of focusing on pressing details, El Tri will instead adopt a more expansive brief to whip up momentum and support for the World Cup. This match is a pep rally of sorts, a chance to bid the heroes adieu before their Brazilian excursion.
Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto welcomed all 23 members of the World Cup squad to Palacio Nacional to say his own goodbye on Tuesday. He presented the squad with a flag to take on its journey and urged the players to represent themselves and their country well over the next six weeks or so.
They will receive more encouragement on Wednesday night when Cuauhtémoc Blanco makes his 122nd and final appearance for El Tri.
Blanco will partner Oribe Peralta from the start as he officially departs a stage he actually exited after the last World Cup. The veteran schemer, 41, is in the midst of a sweeping farewell tour including a return to the top flight with Puebla next season and a testimonial in this friendly against the Israelis. It is a final, if somewhat awkwardly timed, gesture of respect to a player who featured in three World Cups, scored against France four years ago and starred in Mexico’s Confederations Cup triumph in 1999.
“I think it was time to leave the team,” Blanco told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday. “There is a high level. We must be realistic and I think I am happy with this farewell.”
His presence in this makeshift starting XI reflects the rather fleeting usefulness of the exercise ahead. There isn’t much work to do here with Blanco injected into the mix and with a quartet of Club León players and Espanyol defender Héctor Moreno all omitted from the first-choice side after joining the preparations a few days ago.
It is difficult for Miguel Herrera to delve too deeply into tactical tinkering with Moreno, Rafa Márquez, Luis Montes, Carlos Peña and José Juan Vázquez easing their way into camp. Márquez, Moreno, Montes and Peña all feature in the likely spine of the team. Vázquez will vie for the place vacated by the injured Juan Carlos Medina, too.
The futility of a full-scale assessment leaves Herrera to pick and choose where he can experiment in this match. His lineup reflects the necessary inclusion of Blanco up top and the useful opportunity to sift through his choices with some of the regulars forced to the bench to start.
The patchwork nature of the defensive department creates opportunities for several reserves, though regular wingbacks Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún will provide some continuity. Jesús Corona warrants further inspection in goal as he seeks to maintain his narrow edge over Guillermo Ochoa in the race for the number one shirt. Maza Rodríguez and Carlos Salcido must prove their utility as potential defensive alternatives, while Diego Reyes must strengthen his case to start alongside Márquez and Moreno against Cameroon on June 13.
Herrera handed Isaac Brizuela, Marco Fabián and Héctor Herrera the opportunity to impress in central midfield. Herrera perhaps boasts the best chance of this trio to start in the World Cup opener given the injury to Medina, but the FC Porto midfielder must reveal the necessary strength and tactical awareness to buttress his cause. Brizuela and Fabián must state their own qualities as they attempt to climb the pecking order and force their way into consideration for more playing time.
The decision to partner Blanco and Peralta at the outset leaves Javier Hernández consigned to the bench. It is a curious decision on its face given the pressing need to bolster Chicharito’s confidence with a goal or two before the journey to Brazil, but it is a choice that will likely give him a chance to impress at some stage nevertheless. Hernández’s sharpness remains a critical component to Mexico’s chances to book yet another spot in the knockout round and pursue the stated goal of a place in the final eight.
A late goal or two from Chicharito might provide the ideal cap to the past few days of pomp and circumstance, though. This 90-minute farewell tour will send Blanco off into international retirement and usher Mexico into the final stages of its World Cup preparations. The hard work lays ahead for this side. For one more night at least, there is still time to celebrate before the preparations intensify ahead of the trek to Brazil.