Like every other World Cup team, Mexico is hoping its national team stars will be in fine form by the time the event kicks off in Qatar in late November, an unprecedented “winter” World Cup.
Members of El Tri in Europe – as well as candidates still being considered for a spot on the Mexico roster – are currently in training camp and/or on preseason tours while those playing in Liga MX are already four games into their season.
Unlike European leagues, the Liga MX season will conclude before the World Cup is inaugurated, giving some Mexico squad players nearly a month to prepare. Those in European leagues will be arriving about 10 days before their opening group stage match against Poland.
Be that as it may, Mexico fans are anxious to see their European contingent playing well, so here’s a quick look at what’s going on with some of these potential World Cup heroes.
Front-line attackers for Mexico plus ‘The Machine’
Mexico coach Gerardo Martino seems inclined to open with an attacking trident led by Raúl Jiménez (Wolverhampton), Hirving Lozano (Napoli) and Jesús Corona (Sevilla).
All three can expect to enjoy ample playing time at their respective clubs. “Chucky” Lozano has been linked to a move to the English Premier League, but even if the speedy winger is transferred to West Ham United, he can expect to see plenty of action.
With this trio secure in their positions – as long as they avoid injury – there is reasonable hope they will arrive in Qatar in tip-top form.
Another Mexico starter in a similar position is midfield bulldog Edson “El Machín” Álvarez. The América product starred at Eredivisie champs Ajax last season and will surely log plenty of minutes again this season. El Tri fans are fully confident in their midfield stud.
The one possible glitch is if his former coach – Erik ten Hag, now with Manchester United – successfully recruits him. A move to the EPL might cut down his playing time a bit, but even so he is a sure-fire starter for Mexico.
Rank-and-file of Mexico roster
Veteran Andrés Guardado, the long-time El Tri captain, is likely to earn a spot in the squad but is no longer seen as a 90-minute man. “El Principito” will probably see plenty of game time with Real Betis in LaLiga. That along with his experience and fitness would make him a valuable asset for Martino.
Midfielder Erick Gutiérrez appeared in 25 games last season at PSV Eindhoven, the most he’s played in since joining the Dutch power in 2018. “Guti” – always a stately player as he rose through the ranks at Pachuca – has polished his game considerably, earning the trust of PSV coaches to the tune of 1,740 minutes played in Eredivisie matches last season (he saw but 1,638 minutes of action in league play in the previous three seasons).
This week, a story circulated linking “Guti” to Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League teams. Though this would be great for his career long term, one wonders if he’d be worried about a lack of playing time with a new team just now. As it is, if his game continues to develop under new PSV coach Ruud van Nistelrooy, “Guti” could stake a claim to a starting spot with El Tri.
Olympic bronze medalist Johan Vásquez enjoyed a successful first season in Serie A with Genoa but after the club was relegated, the 23-year-old defender booked a transfer to newly promoted Cremonese. Vásquez will surely continue his education in Italy and solid performances could potentially earn him a starting spot (Martino has gotten an earful for sticking with veterans Néstor Araujo and Héctor Moreno instead of pairing Vásquez with his El Tri Olímpico line-mate César Montes).
Left back Gerardo Arteaga is coming off a tremendous season with Belgium club Genk such that early this month the Spanish press was linking him to LaLiga teams, as well some mid-level English Premier League clubs. Arteaga, 23, has a great chance to be a starter in Qatar and looks to have a long European career ahead of him.
Orbelín Pineda moved to Celta de Vigo in January and appeared to have scuttled his World Cup chances as manager Eduardo Coudet rarely summoned him off the bench. Heading into the new season, Coudet made it clear he still had no plans to use “El Maguito” and since coach Martino has made it clear he will only call up players who are seeing action, Pineda was in danger of seeing his World Cup invite revoked.
Last week, Pineda – a frenetic and clever playmaker who helped Cruz Azul win the Guardianes 2021 Liga MX title – arranged a move to AEK Athens. As the Greek club is coached by Matías Almeyda – Pineda’s coach at Guadalajara for three years – Orbelín will surely get plenty of chances to show his stuff.
Two on the bubble, and a long-shot
Diego Lainez moved from América to Real Betis with much fanfare in 2019. He was only 18 and great things were predicted. More than three years later and stardom continues to elude the little lefty. In fact, he has regressed.
Lainez got off the bench just seven times last season and this week Betis coach Manuel Pellegrini left the Tabasco native off his preseason travel roster, indicating the shifty playmaker was not in his plans. Betis will want to loan Lainez out this season since he is under contract for two more years. A loan-out is likely the only way for Lainez to see enough action to make the Mexico roster.
Teen sensation Marcelo Flores has an outside chance at getting selected by Gerardo Martino, particularly after he got game time with El Tri early this summer. Under contract at Arsenal, the 18-year-old was just loaned to Spanish second-division side Real Oviedo where he is likely to be the focal point of their attack. If Flores shines in LaLiga 2, it would be no surprise to see him join Mexico in Qatar.
Santi Muñoz is another Mexican wunderkind on an English Premier League club’s payroll. The 19-year-old forward joined Newcastle United last year but only saw action with the club’s Under-23 side. On Friday, it was announced that Muñoz was invited to train with the senior team ahead of the EPL season.
Santi is not on Martino’s radar at the moment, and even if he manages to stick with the senior team, he is unlikely to get enough playing time to earn a spot in Qatar. Nonetheless, Mexico fans will be watching the Santos Laguna product’s progress.