Return of strike duo boosts El Tri outlook ahead of qualifiers

Raúl Jiménez (left) and Hirving Lozano (right) are available to play for El Tri in the upcoming qualifiers after missing Mexico's three September matches. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Raúl Jiménez (left) and Hirving Lozano (right) are available to play for El Tri in the upcoming qualifiers after missing Mexico's three September matches. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
El Tri October
El Tri defender Néstor Araujo writhes on the ground after suffering an ankle injury on Sept. 27 while playing for Celta de Vigo. (Photo by Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

The media consensus appears to be that if El Tri earns 7 of 9 points available from the three games during this October FIFA break, Mexico will be virtually assured of a spot at Qatar 2022.

However, anybody familiar with the prickly Mexican soccer media knows that a haul of 7 points will likely still result in criticism of coach Gerardo Martino.

I would venture to guess that even if El Tri wins all three matches, some pundits would slam “Tata” for not winning more easily, or not playing with enough flair. As the title character said to the ex-leper in “Life of Brian”: There’s no pleasing some people.”

World No. 9 Mexico hosts Canada (Oct. 7) and Honduras (Oct. 10) before paying a visit to El Salvador (Oct. 13) in Concacaf World Cup qualifying which El Tri currently leads with 7 points from three matches.

Raúl and ‘Chucky’ back on El Tri roster

The big story for fans of El Tri is the reappearance of striker Raúl Jiménez. The Wolves star has not played for Team Mexico since Nov. 17 when he scored against Japan in a friendly.

About 10 days later, the 30-year-old striker suffered a skull fracture in an English Premier League game. Raúl only just returned to action in August, but was unable to join El Tri during the September FIFA break because the EPL refused to release players who’d be traveling to countries with high Covid rates.

Raúl’s absence this past summer provoked plenty of hand-wringing as the back-up forwards available to “Tata” did not produce and El Tri twice lost to Team USA. The selection of naturalized Argentine Rogelio Funes Mori proved to be an adequate stop-gap but prompted some animus among the xenophobic wing of El Tri supporters.

The reappearance of Hirving “Chucky” Lozano is additional relief for El Tri Nation. “Chucky” suffered a horrific head injury in Mexico’s first Gold Cup match on July 10 and was on the sidelines for nearly a month. The speedy winger is just now reclaiming his starting spot at Napoli.

Raúl and “Chucky” comprise two-thirds of Mexico’s attacking trident – along with Porto winger Jesús “Tecatito” Corona – so El Tri fans will be eager to see some offensive fireworks in the upcoming qualifiers.

On the opposite side of the ledger, defender Néstor Araujo (Celta de Vigo) suffered an ankle injury in a La Liga match last week, but was summoned to camp anyway. The sturdy back-liner started all three September qualifiers (alongside Monterrey’s César Montes). Veterans Julio César Domínguez (Cruz Azul) and Héctor Moreno (Monterrey) are dependable replacements, or “Tata” could opt for the central defense pairing (Montes and Johan Vásquez) that won Gold at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Absent from the selection is playmaking wizard Diego Lainez. The 21-year-old Real Betis winger is still nursing an injury suffered while on duty with El Tri Olímpico this past summer, a complication that has irked the Spanish club. Betis officials claim Lainez’s injury was mistreated and his recovery has been slower than anticipated. He did not return to training until Sept. 22.

Mexico’s roster for October qualifiers

Goalies: Guillermo Ochoa (América), Rodolfo Cota (León), Jonathan Orozco (Tijuana), Alfredo Talavera (Pumas)

Defenders: Néstor Araujo (Celta de Vigo), Jesús Gallardo (Monterrey), César Montes (Monterrey), Julio César Domínguez (Cruz Azul), Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez (Tigres), Osvaldo Rodríguez (León), Jorge Sánchez (América), Héctor Moreno (Monterrey), Johan Vásquez (Genoa)

Midfielders: Edson Álvarez (Ajax), Sebastián Córdova (América), Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Andrés Guardado (Real Betis), Carlos Rodríguez (Monterrey), Luis Romo (Cruz Azul), Héctor Herrera (Atlético de Madrid)

Next. Mbappe opens up about failed summer move. dark

Wingers/Forwards: Orbelín Pineda (Cruz Azul), Uriel Antuna (Chivas), Alexis Vega (Chivas), Henry Martín (América), Jesús “Tecatito” Corona (Porto), Hirving “Chucky” Lozano (Napoli), Rogelio Funes Mori (Monterrey), Raúl Jiménez (Wolves)