Playing at Estadio Azteca, Mexico is expected to show why they are CONCACAF's best team against Jamaica in their Hex opener.
Without question, Mexico is the best team in CONCACAF. They won the Gold Cup and are the highest ranked team in the confederation, but it doesn't take trophies, rankings or statistics to make that point (although they don't hurt). One look up and down the Mexico roster, and then watching them play, makes it painfully clear that they are better than any other team the confederation has to offer and by quite a distance.
As El Tri get ready to begin the final round of World Cup qualifying, the question is not whether they will qualify, but how easily and how much better do they get over the year to set themselves up for a deep run at the 2014 World Cup.
Nobody will be particularly eager to play El Tri and certainly not in Mexico, where the 100,000 seat, smog filled, high altitude Estadio Azteca awaits them. Unfortunately for Jamaica, that is exactly how they have to open up the Hex.
The Reggae Boyz drew the short straw and will be at Azteca on Wednesday for an expected beat down because not only are Mexico the best team in the region, but they may be starting to sort through some of their problems. That is a scary thought for Jamaica and CONCACAF -- Mexico might be getting better.
Mexico have struggled for 18 months to find an adequate central midfield pairing to play behind their four potent attackers, but it appears as if they may have found their duo. Carlos Salcido, a veteran who has only recently moved to the midfield from his original left back position, and Hector Herrera, a 22-year-old who recently sealed a move to Porto, partnered together in the double pivot last week against Denmark and played wonderfully. They complimented each other well, with Salcido's toughness and discipline besides Herrera's range and skill, in what may have been a glimpse at the central midfield that will take Mexico to Brazil.
In front of them, El Tri don't have much to worry about. Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Gio dos Santos are both finding their form and increased playing time for their clubs, while Andres Guardado is playing tremendously and put on a scintillating performance against Barcelona over the weekend. The only concern is on the right wing, where Mexico are still without the injured Pablo Barrera, but the diminutive Javier Aquino is more than capable of filling in.
Amazingly, Mexico's biggest problem has been at the back, but it is not for lack of talent. El Tri have an abundance of young defenders, but Jose Manuel de la Torre has insisted on sticking with his veterans and to his detriment. Finally, Chepo has relented and banished his older players in favor of the better, younger ones, but he still did call in Francisco "Maza" Javier Rodriguez. If Chepo can resist the urge to play Maza, all will be well, but Chepo is not one to put his favorite horse out to pasture easily.
Against the collection of talent at Mexico's disposal, and with the form that players like Guardado, Herrera and Hector Moreno are in, Jamaica have almost no chance and that's doubly so at Azteca, but they have their own issues that will make the task even more difficult.
Jamaica have called in several players who have Jamaican heritage and recently agreed to play for Jamaica, but have never put on a Reggae Boyz shirt before and will be playing with their teammates for the first time on Wednesday. Making matters worse, the midweek match means that there will not be a training camp beforehand to get to know their teammates so on top of a daunting opponent in an intimidating atmosphere, Jamaica have unfamiliarity to deal with.
Mexico's qualification for the World Cup is all but assured. Weirder things have happened than El Tri failing to qualify for Brazil, but not many, and that is when looking at the flawed Mexico team that they have put out for the last 18 months. How good can they be if they can patch their holes? We may get our first look at that on Wednesday.