In Santa Clara, California, Mexico ramps up its preparation process with a sense that it might be the beginning of the end for the man leading them. Reports have come out of Colombia (via RCN and Radio Caracol) that current técnico Juan Carlos Osorio has come to a verbal agreement to leave El Tri and take over the Colombian national team once the World Cup cycle ends.
With Osorio’s potential departure in mind, the team still has its important task in front of it, starting with a familiar friendly adversary–Iceland. In fact, El Tri have played both Iceland and Croatia in the last year.
But this is the first time El Tri sees what could be close to both sides’ first teams, including Iceland’s, even though Iceland did not bring talisman Gylfi Sigurðsson or Alfreð Finnbogasson,
Some have equated Iceland’s approach with that of Argentina, but the side led by manager Heimir Hallgrimsson lacks the higher-end attacking maliciousness and skill that comes with players like Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez, or even Mauro Icardi.
And Iceland will likely use the match against Mexico to focus on its own tactical strategies–how they will press and neutralize a team that likes to operate with the ball, has individual willingness to make chances from wide areas and shots, but does not do so with enough players participating strategically in both directions of play (and all phases).
This should force El Tri to be better when it tries to break down Iceland defending and trapping schemes, and help them intervene when Iceland’s attack generates clear chances on goals quickly.
But there’s a drawback to that thinking. In Osorio’s interviews with some members of the Mexican press, he’s stated that his World Cup (and match) squad is nearly set and explicitly stated which players might not even be included in the match day squad if it were not for injuries, including Rodolfo Cota. In doing so, Osorio has accepted a huge risk that El Tri would not put on sharp, colorful performances on the pitch in any of the side’s preparatory matches knowing they count little when compared to the World Cup matches or even the continental and qualifying matches El Tri played in 2017 (and earlier).
Whether that decision-making would be forced by FMF or an outside entity or whether the decision on players has come from Osorio himself will remain a mystery until Osorio is no longer técnico of El Tri.
But even with that risk, there’s still enough value in naming potential World Cup players early that playing a selection that’s likely to take the pitch in Russia that it is worth Osorio doing so. The friendly process then becomes more of a miniature version of the one club coaches use when they are implementing new methods or new approaches that fix or change a team’s style of play or aspects of a player’s approach to his role in the match in particular situations.
Mexico Player to Watch: Miguel Layun
The Sevilla midfielder’s extensive experience across Europe’s “big five” top flights has given him a tactical nous and intelligence as to how to help the team adjust itself to take advantages of tactical openings in or from wide areas. Given Osorio’s desire for fullbacks and wingbacks who have no problems joining attacks early and often, Layun’s use as a wide midfielder and outside defender in his career against European club opponents will be an essential asset when Mexico takes the pitch in Santa Clara and Russia.
Iceland Player to Watch: Kolbeinn Sigþórsson
With Gylfi Sigurðsson and Alfreð Finnbogason not in the Iceland squad, the Nantes striker is the leading goal scorer in Iceland’s squad (22 goals in 44 senior caps). The 28 year old striker is only now back to match fitness after recovering from a long term knee injury and has enough of a history of knee ligament injuries that he scuttled a proposed move to Swedish club IFK Göteborg (Gothenburg), where the pitches were likely to be artificial and hard.
Match Kickoff: 10:30 PM UTC -4 (EDT) / 7:30 PM PDT (UTC -7) at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California
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