Mexico is entering the World Cup with two very different selection dilemmas. At goalkeeper, Mexico has a tough choice to make due to an abundance of riches. But in the center of midfield, manager Miguel Herrera is having to patch over some big holes, and there's no great starting option.
According to ESPN Deportes, Miguel Herrera has decided on Guillermo Ochoa in goal and Andres Guardado in the midfield, but neither was an easy choice, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see changes in both spots for Mexico's second match.
Ochoa, Jose de Jesus Corona and Alfredo Talavera all made compelling cases to get the nod at goalkeeper. Even though Talavera has fallen to become the clear No. 3, he's still a better option than Oscar Perez was in 2010 when he started for El Tri at the World Cup. As far as dilemmas go, Herrera had a good one on his hands in between the sticks.
It was clear early in World Cup camp that the choice was down to Ochoa and Corona, but for reasons only Herrera could explain and has decided not to, it took four friendlies for the manager to make a decision. Common sense dictated that he make a decision so whoever he picked could get reps, but Herrera waited, saying that he needed to see more, as if the years the veterans had already invested for club and country weren't enough.
What a Difference
What a Difference
In the end, Ochoa appears to have gotten the nod. He's the more acrobatic of the goalkeepers and the better shot stopper, which will be needed behind a defense that can be slow footed. Corona is better with the ball at his feet, and while that has value, Mexico need the man who keeps the ball out of the net more than the one who helps them transition. Plus, the idea of Ochoa sitting on the bench for a third World Cup while commercials featuring him play during every television break is too much to bear.
But while Herrera can't go wrong in goal, he can't go right in the midfield.
The center of Mexico's midfield has been a mess in the period following the 2011 Gold Cup, when Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro led them to glory. After that tournament, they had to make way for younger players, and the results haven't been good. Jesus Zavala, Jonathan dos Santos and Manuel Viniegra all got chances and, eventually, all failed. Hector Herrera's development stalled for a while after moving to Porto too, while Jorge Enriquez can't even get on the field for Chivas with any consistency.
Mexico's biggest problem briefly became their biggest strength. Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre, Luis Fernando Tena and Manuel Vucetich all couldn't sort out the center of the pitch, but then Herrera took over and, almost like a wizard, conjured up a working trio in Juan Carlos Medina, Carlos Peña and Luis Montes. They shined at the end of 2013, and their good form continued into 2014.
Going into World Cup training camp, the midfield was supposed to carry them. Then Medina got hurt, and Montes followed.
The midfield was a problem again, and just to make sure it would be a total mess, Peña struggled without his two partners. Herrera found himself in the same hole as his three predecessors, and when it came to picking a midfield he was as helpless as they were.
Herrera has reportedly decided on Jose Juan Vazquez, Hector Herrera and Guardado for the World Cup opener. None of them were realistically in contention for a starting spot in midfield a year ago, or even six months ago. Vazquez had all of two caps to his name before training camp began, Guardado is a wide player in awful form and Herrera has just found his footing for Porto, resuscitating his international career. Unfortunately for Miguel Herrera, they were more choices that he arrived through by default than anything else.
The injury to Medina has left Vazquez as the only true holder left on the team, and Herrera is in the best form of anyone Mexico has left even if he doesn't have a natural role in Mexico's system. The only job that was truly up for grabs went to Guardado, ahead of Marco Fabian and Peña.
That Fabian and Pena were strong contenders to start tells the entire story of the Mexico. One was arguably the last player to make the roster and the other has struggled since Medina went down. Then again, the man who will start is a left-sided player -- not a true midfielder -- who has been among the most disappointing players on the roster.
Herrera is counting on Guardado's ability to play near the touchline to make the team capable of playing wider, and his pace and nose for goal give Mexico a little more unpredictability, but those are prayers. If there is a soccer god, it should work out for them. Their midfield has been so ravaged that they're due for a break or six.
Mexico has their team for Friday's World Cup opener against Cameroon, but don't expect it to stick. If this team's history is any indication, Corona will start the second match in goal and Talavera will start the third, assuming they have enough fit players remaining to even play the third.
Or maybe history won't repeat itself and Mexico will get a fair chance. They deserve one.