World Cup Countdown: The ones to watch for Mexico

The north American powerhouse eased their way to Russia 2018 having lost just one of their 10 qualifying matches, winning six. Even then, that loss came at the hands of Honduras in the final match of qualifying having already guaranteed their place at the World Cup.

Preparations have been indifferent in the build up to the competition, however. Mexico may have lost just one of their last seven friendly matches, but they have won only four of those, with a 1-0 win over Scotland in the early hours of Sunday morning ending a two-match winless streak as they lost to Croatia and were held to a 0-0 draw with Wales last month.

Mexico are not expected to trouble world champions Germany, though to their credit, few are, so they’ll be battling with Sweden and South Korea for a spot in the second round of the World Cup. The pressure is on El Tri, but they have the means to shoulder expectations, with their attack enough to test any side on their day.

An attacking trio of Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez and Hirving Lozano will be tough to contain, with the former set to play a key role. Vela looks a forward reborn after his move to Los Angeles FC and he’s taken to MLS like a duck to water.

 

He already has seven league goals to his name from 12 appearances, while a WhoScored.com rating of 7.79 is the second best in Major League Soccer.

LAFC are flying high in the Western Conference with Vela undeniably the star man in Bob Bradley’s side. The 29-year-old has started on both the left and right flanks for LAFC this season and in the number 10 role, but it’s from the right where he is expected to do the damage this summer.

 

He ranks among the top 10 MLS players for both key passes (2.7) and successful dribbles per game (3.1) this term and if he can carry his fine club form to the World Cup, he has the means to fire Mexico into the last-16.

Crucially still is that he isn’t the sole fluid attacking threat in the Mexico attack in what is expected to be a 4-3-3 this summer. Chicharito may be the direct finisher in the team, but with Lozano on the left, Juan Carlos Osario has two wide forwards able to stretch opponents or drift infield to wreak havoc upon unsuspecting defences.

Lozano, or Chucky as he is affectionately known, comes into the World Cup off the back of a stunning debut season for PSV, where he scored 17 and assisted eight for the Eredivisie champions.

The 22-year-old’s flying performances earned him a WhoScored.com rating of 7.90, the third best in the Eredivisie this season, and has attracted interest from a number of Europe’s elite teams. A preference for cutting onto his right foot from the left wing has proven highly effective at club level and Mexico will look to Lozano to utilise a similar approach in Russia this summer.

With two fluid wide attacking outlets, one would expect Mexico to secure their spot in the next round of the World Cup with consummate ease. They can’t simply rest on their laurels, however, and it’ll be up to Vela and Lozano to terrorise opposition defences in Mexico’s quest to make an impact in Russia this summer.

 

Today Sports
…with Gottlieb Baako (gottlieb.baako@todaygh.com)

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