El Tri begin their group stage match with what could be their most difficult opponent of the three they would face–a duel against UEFA Euro 2016 champions Portugal.
A Selecao are a showcase of a genuinely world class footballing nation that isn’t limited to Cristiano Ronaldo or the Monaco duo of Bernardo Silva and Joao Moutinho, both of whom have either moved on transfers worth more than $40M or could move on such an expensive transfer fee.
While there are many talented players who never actually ever actually get teams to pay that kind of money, there are something that the players who do move on such expensive fees have. They can execute their 1-vs-1 duties very well. They can control and pass a ball under heavy, quick, pressure, they make space to shoot and finish with good technique, and they can draw a foul when they want to either take advantage of a situation or have their passing lanes blocked. And they also happen to be good athletes, who can accelerate quickly, are physically strong, and have good aerial ability.
El Tri has had a recent habit of underwhelming performances against athletic teams with wingers who could threaten both on the dribble and through the center. A number of players on A Selecao are among the fastest in the world, most notably Cristiano Ronaldo. But they come with an intent to be malicious with the ball and without the ball as much as possible—a collective level of decision-making to break whatever El Tri would have to do defensively.
However, players like Nelson Semedo, Ricardo Quaresma, Nani, Pepe, Andre Gomes, Pizzi, and Raphael Guerrero are players that many among the El Tri might have faced before, either on the training ground or in full matches. But on the international level, it is a different story.
As a team, El Tri and A Selecao have played each other several times, but the last two meetings, which came in both 2006 and 2014, Portugal have come away as victors. And so, Juan Carlos Osorio’s side is not necessarily up against an opponent in which it has a good recent history. And Portugal is deep enough that a number of stars who played with the team in 2014, or even the 2016 European Championship, were not included in manager Fernando Santos’s side this tournament, and it still might be a steeper climb for El Tri.
However, this Portugal team does have a significant amount of distraction to deal with which could benefit El Tri. Portugal captain and talisman winger Cristiano Ronaldo announced his intention to leave Real Madrid in the summer suddenly.
Immediately, speculation began as to not only why Cristiano Ronaldo made those comments to Real Madrid, but also where the four-time Ballon D’Or winner would play his football next with Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain as rumored destinations. One possible reason may be a massive tax evasion case against him.
However, despite the tabloid and real significance of the story, Fernando Santos still insisted that Cristiano’s saga would not be a distraction on their side. But this is not a story that would go away quietly.
And it presents an opportunity for Juan Carlos Osorio’s El Tri, under a more collective approach out of a 3-4-3 that was shown in some parts of Mexico’s training session in Kazan, to get a significant result in the tournament.
Whether Osorio’s side will actually start out of a 3-4-3 is a different matter, but it presents an opportunity to try to focus El Tri‘s attack more centrally. It is a difficult habit for a team which for a number of years had based almost everything from attacking the penalty area from wide areas.
But it’s a lesson that has only so far succeeded against CONCACAF opposition whom they were obligated to beat anyway, and it’s one that when they faced good teams in matches that mattered for both, their ability to find good chances on goal and keep goals out at the other end.
Even if El Tri gets a result, Osorio’s achievement would be very much cast against the shadow of Miguel ‘Piojo’ Herrera’s World Cup side, who managed to take points from both Croatia (a 3-1 win) and Brazil (a draw) in the World Cup.
But there are other consequences for El Tri that may be in their fans’ power. If their fans are caught doing the “P*to” chant, FIFA now has the authority to suspend or forfeit the match.
The match kicks off Sunday, June 18 at 11:00 AM Eastern DST (8:00 AM Pacific DST). It can be seen on Fox Sports 1 and Telemundo, and streamed on Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer Match Pass (formerly Fox Soccer 2 Go), FuboTV, and Telemundo Deportes.