Euro leagues’ travel restrictions worry Mexico

Team Mexico coach Gerardo Martino might have to make some last-minute changes to his roster ahead of next month's World Cup qualifiers. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
Team Mexico coach Gerardo Martino might have to make some last-minute changes to his roster ahead of next month's World Cup qualifiers. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /
Mexico, Euro red lists
Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, has urged European leagues to release players for international duty next week, as required by FIFA bylaws. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images) /

Team Mexico coach Gerardo Martino is no doubt frantically filling out an alternate roster for next month’s three World Cup qualifiers as the top leagues of England, Spain and Italy ponder not releasing international players who hail from “red-listed” nations.

The proposal – first broached by the English Premier League – has earned support from Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A, prompting FIFA to implore all clubs to release players in accord with FIFA rules.

Initial reports suggested English officials had cited South American nations on its red list (the issue being the strict quarantine rules to which players would be subject to upon their return), but Mexico has seen an alarming rise in case numbers the past month.

If the European leagues stick to their guns, it would be no surprise to see Mexican nationals added to the list of players they refuse to release for national team duty.

Another depleted Mexico roster?

If worse-comes-to-worst, “Tata” Martino could be forced to make do without striker Raúl Jiménez (Wolverhamption in the EPL), Chucky Lozano (Napoli in Serie A), Héctor Herrera (Atlético de Madrid in La Liga), Néstor Araujo (Celta de Vigo in La Liga) and the Real Betis (La Liga) duo of Andrés Guardado and Diego Lainez.

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Leaving aside Guardado (the former skipper turns 35 next month), that’s five players “Tata” likely has penciled into his preferred rotation. Team Mexico would be without two top scorers, its midfield general, a central defender and a super sub.

Such a scenario would be déjà vu for El Tri. Martino was left with a short-handed Mexico roster for the Gold Cup since several top-choice players were in Tokyo participating in the Olympics. The result was an embarrassing loss to Team USA in the final.

One wonders if the United States could find itself red-listed as new Covid cases there have topped 150,000 on average the past week (the average over the past seven days in Mexico is just under 15,000 new cases daily).

FIFA is desperate to ensure this does not happen, but most international players were expecting to travel home by Monday.

FIFA reduces penalty for homophobic chant

Mexico will only have to play one World Cup qualifier without fans in attendance after soccer’s governing body on Wednesday decided to reduce the two-game ban it had imposed for repeat violations of its anti-discriminatory rules.

The Mexican Soccer Federation had appealed the initial ruling, arguing that the latest violation had occurred at a game in which the Under-23 team was playing. As such, pleaded the FMF, a punishment imposed on the senior team would be unfair.

Of course, this ignores the repeat violations at El Tri matches for more than 10 years now.

FIFA’s decision cited the steps the FMF has taken to address the issue although some might argue that the anti-discrimination campaign is half-hearted at best.

Much to the shame of Mexico and its fans, only hours after FIFA announced its decision, the homophobic was heard at the MLS-Liga MX All-Star Game, forcing a temporary suspension of play.

Jaime Lozano steps down

After guiding El Tri Olímpico to a bronze medal in Tokyo, “Jimmy” Lozano resigned his post as coach of Mexico’s U-23 team on Monday.

Lozano had always said he’d leave the job after the Olympics and he leaves with a strong résumé. Under Jimmy’s leadership, El Mini Tri took bronze at the prestigious Toulon Tournament in 2019, won bronze at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, took first place at the Concacaf Olympics qualifiers and finished up with a win over host Japan in the Bronze-Medal Match in Tokyo.

The 42-year-old manager says he is looking for new opportunities that will help him prepare to become coach of the national team. Lozano had a brief 18-game interlude as coach of Querétaro back in 2017, but that Gallos Blancos team – similar to this season’s version – had one of the lowest payrolls in Liga MX.

The former Pumas and Cruz Azul star is being mentioned as a candidate at his alma mater as UNAM sits in 14th place this season after failing to qualify for the playoffs last season. Lozano could also attract the interest of the Chivas front office as coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich is on shaky ground.

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A stint with the Chivas would be a good test for the Mexico job since it would involve similar pressure from fans and non-stop media attention. If Lozano does take charge of “El Rebaño Sagrado,” he be reunited with four members of the Olympic team that won bronze for Mexico.