Team Mexico will take the field in California tonight in its final exhibition match before departing for the World Cup with nervous coaches and clubs hoping their stars don’t catch the FIFA flu.
Five of the 31 players who reported to “Tata” Martino’s training camp have already been sent back to their clubs to continue rehab while “Chucky” Lozano, Charlie Rodríguez and Héctor Moreno earned their share of bumps and bruises during Saturday’s match against Peru.
Against world No. 17 Colombia in Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium, “Tata” is expected to tinker with his line-up a bit, especially since injuries will affect his final World Cup roster selections.
The embattled Mexico coach will want to get a good look at a few players currently on the bubble who might be needed in Qatar should health continue to be a concern in November.
Mexico still looking for offensive production
The absence of striker Raúl Jiménez (sports hernia) is coach Martino’s biggest worry but that was not the primary issue against Peru.
El Tri exhibited poor passing in the offensive third and starting striker Henry Martín saw little of the ball making it difficult to evaluate his effectiveness. The same was true for sub Santiago Giménez.
There is no guarantee that Jiménez will be fit in time for the World Cup and Martino’s second-choice striker – Rogelio Funes Mori – is also in sick bay, out since mid-August with a nagging thigh injury. Martín and Giménez might end up leading the Mexico attack in Qatar.
On Monday, Martino said he would wait right up until the Nov. 14 deadline to submit his final World Cup roster in hopes that Jiménez and winger Jesús Corona (broken leg) get a doctor’s release.
Against Peru, Mexico managed just a single shot on goal and that didn’t come until minute 85. Fortunately, the ball ended up in the back of the net thanks to “Chucky” Lozano, the third member of El Tri’s preferred attacking trident.
As Lozano has been injury-prone of late, Martino might consider sending him out against Colombia encased in bubble wrap. “Chucky” took a beating against Peru and Mexico fans might keel over should Lozano end up on the sidelines alongside Raúl and “Tecatito.”
Look for Diego Lainez and Orbelín Pineda to get playing time tonight. Both of these players – along with Alexis Vega who was rested against Peru due to muscle fatigue – expect to be with Mexico in Qatar so they’ll want to declare their readiness to contribute at the World Cup.
Another player who collected some bruises against Peru was midfielder Charlie Rodríguez. No doubt, Cruz Azul fans were holding their collective breath at seeing him sprawled on the Rose Bowl pitch clutching at his legs after a couple brutal tackles.
With the regal Héctor Herrera back in Houston nursing an ankle knock, Charlie was asked to serve as link-up with the front line but his performance was spotty on Saturday. His presence in Qatar is virtually assured, however, so we might see Erick Gutiérrez, Fernando Beltrán and Erick Sánchez against Colombia. The latter two are clearly on the bubble so this is likely their final chance to impress.
Luis Romo – the star of Mexico’s bronze medal-winning side last year – reported to camp last week with a thigh complaint so Martino likely won’t risk his health tonight.
And finally, if veteran Andrés Guardado gets into the game, he will set a new all-time record for caps. “El Principito” has worn the Mexico jersey in 178 games, tied with “El Emperador” Claudio Suárez.
On defense, “Tata” has fewer worries. Although right back Jorge Sánchez was limited to light training all week (knee), his position is secure, and Mexico has quality back-ups at all four defensive positions.
The same is true in goal with capable veterans Alfredo Talavera and Rodolfo Cota in support of Guillermo Ochoa.
Mexico fans will hope to see a crisper offensive performance against Colombia but the result is of less importance than the player evaluations that “Tata” and his coaching staff conduct afterward.
Meanwhile, Liga MX coaches and fans will hope their heroes return from the States healthy and fit as the domestic league prepares for the final regular season matchday this weekend.