Mexico struggles as Olympic heroes languish on bench

Posted by Tom Marshall

It's been strange watching El Tri in the Confederations Cup from England, away from the media hype in Mexico, the buzz on the street and the insistence that the national team can and will defeat the world's best.

It does give you a renewed sense of perspective hearing commentators the other side of the Atlantic talk about Mexican soccer, outside the bubble of the CONCACAF region.

The overriding feeling -- and this won't be nice for Mexico fans to hear -- is that El Tri is a middle-of-the-road side with sparks of quality, but who can't quite cut it when confronted by world powers.

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It is hard to blame British pundits and media outlets for maintaining that train of thought. Mexico has finished every World Cup since 1994 at the Round of 16 stage. El Tri is nothing if not consistent.

In terms of world soccer, Mexico has its place and it is a very well-defined one, perhaps more so than any other nation.

Of course, those of us who have closely followed Mexican soccer in recent years know that this was supposed to be the time that perception was torn up and thrown on the scrap heap. El Tri wasn't supposed to struggle in World Cup qualifying and this year's Confederations Cup was supposed to be a kind of coming-out for the new Mexican team; a chance to make a defiant statement that the steelier, faster, meaner Mexico national team had arrived.

The reasons for that were based partly on success at U-17 and U-20 level in recent years, but mainly on Olympic success at Wembley last summer, when Mexico's youngsters showed the necessary mix of flair, mental toughness and grit to defeat a strong Brazil side and win the gold medal.

But none of that has been on display this year and Mexico was much more underwhelming this time than in previous editions of the Confederations Cup.

The buck has to stop with manager Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre. The national team is on a slippery slope in terms of form. Let’s face it, El Tri is going backwards, at a time when it people hoped it would be boxed in and categorized with the likes of Belgium and Colombia as Brazil 2014's dark horses.

Playing Gerardo Torrado and Carlos Salcido together in central midfield against Brazil is not the type of lineup that is going to break any glass ceiling. Such reliance on veterans made the Confederations Cup defeats even more heartbreaking for Mexico fans because it highlights a lack of ambition and an unwillingness to go toe-to-toe with the top sides.

Most fans would prefer some combination of Carlos "Gullit" Pena, Jesus Zavala or Hector Herrera, even if the lack of experience meant a defeat. At least Mexico would have a chance of producing more attacking football and something to get excited about.

And maybe, just maybe, the thrust, energy and dynamism of those younger legs could have caused Brazil a few more problems than simply giving the ball to Giovani Dos Santos and hoping he produced some magic.

Over on the right side, both Hiram Mier and Gerardo Flores played outside their normal positions against Brazil.

There was a perfectly good right back by the name of Israel Jimenez, who dealt well with Brazil's attack at Wembley, but he has so far not been given a run in the side by Chepo.

Fellow Olympic gold medal winners Diego Reyes, Herrera, Jorge Enriquez, Mier, Marco Fabian and Raul Jimenez are all in the same boat as Jimenez. Not one has been given consistent chances to nail down a place in the national team.

Not that Chepo seems too bothered, at least when he talks to the media, stressing the positives from the Italy and Brazil games and the fact Mexico is still on course to make Brazil 2014, in spite of the mediocrity.

“We’re in third place in qualifying,” De la Torre said Wednesday. “At the moment we are in (the World Cup).”

With that kind of limited ambition and leadership, commentators in Europe are not likely to be changing their common perception of Mexico's national team anytime soon.

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