After coming from behind to defeat the United States 4-2 in the Gold Cup final, Mexico’s preparations for Copa America 2011 appeared to be going smoothly. Despite pledging to take a largely under-23 team to Argentina, and the competition taking a backseat to the Gold Cup, the winning feeling generated by overcoming their eternal rivals to the north could be expected to spread to the squad. However, the suspension of eight players for a breach of team discipline has disrupted the optimistic mood created by the senior squad’s success.
Luis Fernando Tena, an assistant to senior Coach Jose Manuel de la Torre but in sole charge for the Copa America, has lost defenders Israel Jimenez and Nestor Vidrio, midfielders Jorge Hernandez, Jonathan Dos Santos, David Cabrera, and Nestor Calderon, and forwards Marco Fabian and Javier Cortes from his original party, a hammer blow with the likes of Javier Hernandez, Rafael Marquez, and Andres Guardado absent after competing in the Gold Cup. After the forced withdrawals and split focus, Tottenham Hotspur attacker Giovani dos Santos is the most experienced name in the squad, with 45 caps and 11 goals in the colours of El Tri. Paul Aguilar, the 25-year-old Club America defender, is the only other squad member whose caps number double figures. Carlos Vela, the Arsenal forward who ended the season on loan at West Bromwich Albion, was denied permission by the Gunners to play.
Short on experience – there are nine uncapped players in the group – but high on talent, Mexico’s prodigious record on youth development is another factor limiting the players available to Tena. With the World U-20 Cup to come in Colombia next month, the stand-in boss has been denied the use of Erick Torres, the 18-year-old Chivas striker reportedly attracting interest from Manchester United and Spurs. Nevertheless promising young players do remain, not least 19-year-old forward Ulises Davila, versatile midfielder Edgar Pacheco, 21, and defender Hiram Mier, who, at 21, has been described in some quarters as the new Marquez, and is expected to move to European football sooner rather than later. Goalkeeper Luis Ernesto Michel, the oldest player in the group at 31 but with only seven caps to date, is likely to be the No 1 while Rafael Marquez Lugo is leading the contenders to start as the side’s lone striker.
Tena is expected to continue with the senior side’s 4-2-3-1 formation, using Lugo through the middle as a central striker and Pacheco and dos Santos two of the three supporting attackers. The raft of suspensions has muddied the waters somewhat, with the younger dos Santos, Cabrera, and Cortes all previously in line to make the starting XI, and Arsenal’s Vela once a certain starter who will now be watching from afar. The ill-behaved eight were excluded after Mexico’s final warm-up friendly, a 1-0 victory over fellow Copa America contenders Columbia, making judging the side’s prospects with the new players a difficult prospect, but a repeat of the Gold Cup success would be a major shock.
One to watch – Giovani dos Santos: Still only 22, the former Barcelona player has drifted since joining Spurs, having been loaned out three times in as many years. Dos Santos has managed just 20 appearances at White Hart Lane, and has much to prove. With the lack of experience in the squad, this may be his chance.
Aguilar – Mier – Araujo – Ponce
Enriquez – Reyes
Orrantia – Pacheco – dos Santos