MOSCOW — Mexico ended its Confederations Cup campaign in fourth place on Sunday, in a disappointing end to a tournament against Portugal. Here are five lessons we’ve learned from El Tri‘s time in Russia:
1. Ochoa is rightfully No. 1
The debate over Mexico’s goalkeeping position finally appears to be over. Guillermo Ochoa emerged in Russia as El Tri‘s best keeper, ahead of long-time rival Alfredo Talavera. Ochoa started four of the five games at the Confederations Cup and was solid, winning the man of the match award in the third-place playoff against Portugal.
Off the pitch, he has cut an assured figure, talking openly with the media and increasingly assuming more of a leadership role within the squad.
Now the goalkeeper just has to sort out his club career, with a couple of frustrating years at Malaga and Granada hampering him. The defining transfer of his career could be imminent and Ochoa — the first Mexican goalkeeper in Europe — needs it to be a good one.
2. “Osorio out” not going anywhere
The criticism of coach Juan Carlos Osorio in the Confederations Cup has been fierce, especially in the wake of El Tri‘s 4-1 defeat to Germany in the semifinal.
The “Osorio out” chants heard in Estadio Azteca in the game against Honduras last September in the first home game since the 7-0 defeat to Chile have gathered a new life online and the phrase has become a trending topic at times in Mexico during the tournament.
One look at the replies to tweets on the team’s official account tells you there is a sizable element of Mexico’s fanbase that isn’t in tune with his philosophy and especially the rotation of players. Throw into the mix the criticism from legend Hugo Sanchez and well-known pundits and it becomes a difficult situation for the Colombian coach to manage.
The atmosphere around camp is strange, with the players backing the manager, but the criticism from outside relentless.
3. Osorio feeling the pressure
Mexico’s manager appears to be a very rational human being. His decision-making is thoroughly planned. And he’ll know that Mexico went into this tournament as the fourth best team and finished fourth. Mexico couldn’t meet internal expectations, but outwardly it fulfilled a par performance.
Worryingly, there have been times in Russia when the passionate Osorio has crossed the line. Against New Zealand, he was caught on camera swearing in English at the opposition bench, while he was sent off at the end of the Portugal game. It didn’t look good and perhaps highlights that inside he is feeling the pressure.
Who could blame him? The answer, however, is for Osorio to keep working, carrying on convincing the players of his methods and only listen to the criticism that is well thought out and valid.
World Cup qualifying is going very well, but he’ll need a decent performance at the Gold Cup. That is simply the life of a Mexico manager.
4. Mexico needs full squad available
El Tri had some major absences for the key semifinal against Germany. Jesus “Tecatito” Corona missed the whole tournament due to a personal issue, while Carlos Salcedo and Diego Reyes picked up injuries in Russia.
The situation put under the microscope the lack of depth Mexico has in certain positions. It’s true that Osorio selected center-back Oswaldo Alanis at left-back for the pivotal game, but the other option was Luis Reyes, who has only played 34 games in Mexico’s first division.
Would it have been a different outcome against Germany with a full team? Osorio said he would’ve played Salcedo and right-back Miguel Layun on the left and Reyes or Rafa Marquez in the holding midfield spot. It’s impossible to know and Germany looked very strong, but with that setup it is difficult to believe Mexico would’ve been so poor defending early on in the game.
5. Jonathan dos Santos now more vital than Giovani
The Villarreal midfielder has been a revelation for Mexico at the Confederations Cup. Calm on the ball, intense and with a strong engine, Dos Santos is now in line for a regular start in the important games. His link-up play with Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado helped Mexico control the midfield agains Portugal and Russia, and even to a degree against Germany.
The 27-year-old has taken a long time to settle with the national team and was cruelly left out of the 2010 World Cup squad, but his moment has arrived and he’s consolidated himself with El Tri for the first time on the world stage.
Rumors have continued to link Jonathan with a move to join brother Giovani in MLS, but the younger brother still has much to give in Europe. Indeed, Jonathan is now overshadowing Giovani with the national team.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.