No excuses allowed: El Tri begins long march to Qatar

After starring for El Tri Olímpico, Luis Romo (right) could play a key role in Mexico's World Cup qualifying campaign. (Photo by ASANO IKKO/AFP via Getty Images)
After starring for El Tri Olímpico, Luis Romo (right) could play a key role in Mexico's World Cup qualifying campaign. (Photo by ASANO IKKO/AFP via Getty Images) /
El Tri, qualifiers 1
Alexis Vega (#11) and Sebastián Córdova (#17) should see plenty of playing time for El Tri in the next week. (Photo by MARIKO ISHIZUKA/AFP via Getty Images) /

El Tri will take the field to open its 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign without first-choice striker Raúl Jiménez, though there is hope he will be available for the next two games during the current FIFA break.

Coach “Tata” Martino is likely to start recently naturalized striker Rogelio Funes Mori at the point of attack with two forwards in support, sticking with his preferred 4-3-3 formation.

With three games in seven days, we might expect to see tactical rotation for two reasons:

1. To keep the players fresh during these all-important three opening matches, and

2. Since it is a longer and more condensed qualifying schedule, “Tata” should be willing to tinker with his line-up to find the ideal roster for Qatar 2022 as a new generation matures.

El Tri under pressure to produce

After a summer featuring two lost finals against the United States, “Tata” and El Tri will be looking to regain confidence and self-respect.

Despite the twin pratfalls, Mexico remains a favorite to top the qualifying group, a position supported by its spot as the top Concacaf team in the latest FIFA World Rankings.

Even so, a ragged start – say, less than 7 points from the first three games – could prompt a nervous reaction in the Federation boardroom. An acceptable scenario would be a home win over Jamaica, a tie at Costa Rica and a win at Panama.

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That being said, “Tata” will be chasing the full 9 points, and El Tri has the roster to sweep all three games. The question is, will coach Martino pull the right strings to win three straight.

“Tata” did not rotate his line-up adequately in the Gold Cup and fatigue was noticeable in the semifinal against Canada and the final against Team USA. That was a huge mistake since it was an ideal opportunity to test new players ahead of the long road to Qatar, and a chance to reduce reliance on veterans who might be past their prime by December 2022.

Instead, starters were overworked and new faces (and new legs) were not given the chance to demonstrate their worthiness.

Green, white, red … and bronze

The absence of stars “Chucky” Lozano, Héctor Herrera and Raúl Jiménez should afford playing time for bronze medal-winning studs Luis Romo, Alexis Vega and Sebastián Córdova. Another Olympian, midfielder Carlos Rodríguez should also see a lot of the pitch.

The defense is the big question mark, however. César Montes played a starring role in Tokyo and he should lace up his boots because he will get minutes. Youngster Gilberto Sepúlveda was on the Gold Cup roster but was granted just 21 minutes of playing time. If “Tiba” does not get into a game, it suggests an unwillingness on the part of “Tata” to develop talent.

The same is true at the fullback positions which were a disappointment in the Gold Cup. Neither Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez nor Jesús Gallardo demonstrated an ability to consistently send in dangerous crosses. I lost track of how many times one of their centering passes failed to get past the first defender.

It is likely that Jorge Sánchez will play, but León teammates David Ramírez and Osvaldo Rodríguez deserve a shot, too. El Tri is much more dangerous when their fullbacks are two-way threats and the Esmeraldas duo is eager to contribute.

Up front, medalists Uriel Antuna and Roberto Alvarado can provide speed and skill, while another Tokyo hero Henry Martín can provide production off the bench.

Next. El Tri's mantra - Qatar or bust. dark

Unlike the summer, when “Tata” and El Tri were split into two squads, there can be no excuse for underachieving. Coach Martino must show confidence in his entire roster, while making clear that World Cup spots must be earned. The march to Qatar starts on Thursday.