The Confederations Cup is usually viewed as a fun glorified friendly and a good opportunity to experiment with new lineups and tactics for the managers of the massive sides participating. Mexico have made the knockout phase of the last five World Cups and are heavy favorites to qualify for the finals, but they'll be taking this tournament more seriously than just about everyone. Maybe even more seriously than Brazil.
Mexico have played nine games in 2013, won one and drawn eight. They've yet to score a goal at home in the final phase of World Cup qualifying. Their performances at Estadio Azteca have been a bit of a national embarrassment and they have manager 'Chepo' Jose Manuel de la Torre on the hot seat.
Fans chanted "fuera Chepo" and booed him mercilessly at the conclusion of El Tri's recent 0-0 draw with Costa Rica, leading journalists to ask him if he's considered resigning. In a defiant press conference, he stated that he would never quit and that his team is on track to qualify for the World Cup. The FMF has stood by him, but they could change their tone if Mexico makes it 12 games without victory in the next two weeks.
Projected starting lineup (4-2-3-1)
GK Jose Corona LB Carlos Salcido CB Hector Moreno CB 'Maza' Francisco Rodriguez RB Gerardo Flores CM Gerardo Torrado CM Jesus Zavala LW Andres Guardado CAM Giovani dos Santos RW Javier Aquino CF 'Chicharito' Javier Hernandez
Unless Mexico is downright sensational in a win over Italy in their Confederations Cup opener, expect this lineup to change a couple of times. Chepo hasn't stuck with a team long-term and that's unlikely to change unless they start getting spectacular results. He's certainly not averse to starting players out of position or changing his formation entirely.
Aquino is in a constant battle with Pablo Barrera for a starting spot, so expect to see both of them. Flores and Severo Meza are in the same boat. Mexico's third center back, Diego Reyes, is their best young player and could get a start if things aren't going well. Dos Santos has run very hot and cold, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Chepo go to a 4-4-2 and take him out of the lineup. Torrado is the team's most experienced player, which means he's their oldest. Hector Herrera is the man most likely to take some playing time from him.
Player to watch
Jesus Zavala. When most people think of Mexican central midfielders, they think of diminutive deep-lying playmakers who are excellent at keeping the ball. Zavala is a 6'3" box-to-box monster who's nothing like any other player in his national pool. Herrera starred at the last Olympics so most thought that he would be the constant in Mexico's midfield going forward, with Chepo trying out various partners for him, but that role is now Zavala's. The Monterrey man is one of the stars of a big side in Liga MX and likely isn't begging to go anywhere, but a big Confederations Cup could help him seal a move to Europe.
Last place in Group A. Sorry, Mexico, you drew the short straw. This group is just too tough. El Tri raise their game against the best and will probably look more dangerous against all three of Group A's teams than they do against CONCACAF opposition, but that doesn't mean they'll win a game. Expect them to go home with one or two points, and expect de la Torre to lose his job the second he steps off the plane in Mexico City.