Mexico Camp Focus – El Tri on verge of Copa America elimination, perhaps permanently

Mexico likely draw their Copa America 2011 experience to an end on Tuesday as El Tri face Uruguay in a game the World Cup 2010 semi-finalists must win to reach the next stage, but one that has little but pride resting on it for Luis Tena’s outfit, with only a small outside chance of qualifying in third place existing for the Central Americans.

The only side without a point in the competition, Mexico’s Copa America began badly with the suspension of eight players and has not improved on the field, losing 2-1 to Chile in their opening game and 1-0 to Peru last week. A win over Uruguay, however, could see Mexico qualify as one of the third-place sides if both Brazil and Paraguay in Group A lose on Wednesday to Ecuador and Venezuela respectively. Qualification for the latter stages would be a substantial achievement for a Mexico side without not only their senior players, but without their Head Coach too – Tena, an assistant to Jose Manuel de la Torre, has led the young side in Argentina. Tena has been vocal about what changes need to be made to allow his side to be competitive in the tournament. He said: “I hope this is the last time that Mexico come to a Copa America with a squad with an age limit. It would have been very interesting to see our full team, which had such an amazing Gold Cup, playing against teams as strong as those that are playing here.”

A member of the Central American confederation CONCACAF rather than the South American association in charge of the Copa America CONEMBOL, Mexico are invited to make up the numbers of the tournament on a regular basis, finishing third in 2007 with a much stronger squad. Indeed, then-Coach Hugo Sanchez was able to call on such experience as Rafael Marquez, Gerardo Torrado and Oswaldo Sanchez, a far cry from the new faces populating Tena’s ranks. In November 2010 CONEMBOL Vice-President Eugenio Figueredo said that if Mexico did not bring a senior side to the competition, their future involvement would be in doubt. He added: “I’d say if this chance…is not taken advantage of…in the future we couldn’t bear them in mind.

Having won the Gold Cup, defeating the United States 4-2 in the final, pitching a full-strength Mexico side against Chile, Uruguay and Peru would have been intriguing at least, and certainly provide an opportunity for Mexico to test themselves against high-calibre opposition. With CONCACAF imposing an age-limit on the squad in order to preserve Mexico’s full participation in the Gold Cup, and clubs under no obligation to release their players for a tournament Mexico are only guests at, that chance was lost and the outcome has been clear. A lack of defensive organisation has cost Mexico at crucial times – such as conceding two goals to set-pieces having taken the lead against Chile – but the best way for the promising youngsters Mexico brought to Argentina to learn is by playing against such talented opponents. Whether a tournament as prestigious as the Copa America should be reduced to a learning experience is another matter altogether.

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