Headaches in final El Tri camp ahead of Qatar

Raúl Jiménez has struggled for club and country since a November head injury. El Tri fans are hoping he'll find his top form before Qatar. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Raúl Jiménez has struggled for club and country since a November head injury. El Tri fans are hoping he'll find his top form before Qatar. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
El Tri final camp
Santiago Giménez (#29) will get a chance to prove he belongs on the El Tri World Cup roster when Mexico plays Peru on Saturday. (Photo by ANP via Getty Images) /

In each of the past seven World Cups, El Tri has advanced out of the group stage. Mexico’s prospects to continue that streak do not look promising at the moment.

As El Tri holds its final pre-Qatar training camp and prepares for two friendly matches, fans have every reason to be alarmed as injuries are a genuine concern.

Thirty-one players were invited to the camp by coach Gerardo Martino, and 26 of them will comprise the El Tri World Cup roster. Six of the 31 reported to camp with fitness issues, and five of those six are expected to be on the final roster

That suggests that the players currently “on the bubble” might be able to play their way into a seat on the airplane to Qatar in the upcoming matches, particularly if the injury issues persist another six to eight weeks.

El Tri has worries up front

The biggest injury concerns are on offense, most especially the litany of ailments that have pursued Raúl Jiménez. Especially since “Tata” Martino made it clear since taking over as El Tri manager in 2019 that he was building his attack around the Wolverhampton striker.

Raúl’s value to the team – and Martino’s failure to develop other options – was evident throughout the qualification process during which the rangy forward was absent for 11 months after suffering a fractured skull in a Premier League contest in November 2020.

Jiménez arrived in Mexico City this week after missing the past three Wolves matches with a groin injury. On Thursday, reports from the training ground indicated that the damage was potentially quite serious – a condition known as athletic pubalgia. As such, the former América starlet faces weeks of rehab and his recovery before the World Cup is not a sure thing.

Unfortunately for El Tri, Raúl’s understudy – Rogelio Funes Mori – also reported directly to sick bay this week. The Monterrey striker has been sidelined with a nagging thigh injury since mid-August.

This situation should allow for fierce competition between América’s Henry Martín and Santiago Giménez of Feyenoord since it was believed that Martino would not take more than three strikers to Qatar. We’re likely to see Giménez play Saturday vs Peru since the Dutch club for which he plays has asked that he be released before the second game. That would leave a full 90 minutes for Henry against Colombia on Sept. 27.

With lingering fitness issues for Jiménez nor Funes Mori, Henry and Santi would certainly be solid options to lead the El Tri front line in November. Henry has been red hot the past month. He is second in Liga MX with 10 goals and he has 5 assists as well for the league-leading Aguilas. Santi has 10 goals in 12 games across three competitions (Liga MX, Eredivisie and Europa League).

Another offensive star who limped into El Tri camp is Chivas ace Alexis Vega, but his complaints are primarily related to fatigue and not a specific knock. His playing time is likely to be limited.

Napoli winger Hirving Lozano should get a chance to work with both Santi and Henry and coach Martino might be inclined to give “Chucky” heavy minutes since the Pachuca alum hasn’t seen much game action in Serie A. Lozano – no stranger to injury – will be key to Mexico’s chances in Qatar, just as he was four years ago in Russia, especially after Jesús “Tecatito” Corona broke his leg last month.

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We’ll look at a few other roster concerns before Saturday’s kick-off at the Rose Bowl. Goalie is the one position where El Tri fans feel secure, but how confident should we be about defense and midfield?