After a spectacular showing against France, to say that El Tri are riding high would be an understatement. That brilliant beatdown of Les Bleus stands as one of the country’s best-ever Olympic results, and confidence is through the roof ahead of a showdown in Saitama against the hosts.
Mexico are more than capable challenging for gold, but they must not get carried away ahead of tomorrow’s tilt. Star forward Alexis Vega spoke about the importance of keeping perspective in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s thrilling triumph:
“We have to stay grounded. We know that it’s the first game, we haven’t won anything,” the Chivas creator said.
Those reassuring words must be backed up by actions, but the level of experience in this squad suggests that standards will not slip. Every single player in the starting eleven at the Ajinomoto Stadium has turned out for Mexico’s senior side, with a considerable cohort already key parts of Gerardo Martino’s plans.
None more so than Guillermo Ochoa, who is on course to contest a fifth World Cup in Qatar. The América legend’s leadership qualities were on full display against the French through his constant communication with a rock-solid rearguard, but much younger members of the team took the bull by the horns in other areas of the pitch.
Charly Rodríguez oozed class in midfield with his calm control of proceedings, while Diego Lainez was in fine fettle on the flank. The Real Betis winger gave opposing left-back Anthony Caci a torrid time throughout, and it was his teasing cross that set up Vega for the opening goal.
Lainez is making a pleasing habit of coming up with crucial contributions in National Team colors, with that outstanding assist his fourth goal involvement in six games this summer. That improved end product has made the 21-year-old a crucial cog in “Tata’s” team, and it only seems a matter of time before some of his Olympic teammates follow suit.
Vega will surely be adding to his nine caps sooner rather than later, while Erick Aguirre can perform capably in a variety of different roles. Yet, the biggest opening appears to be at center-back.
Héctor Moreno and Carlos Salcedo are the current incumbents, but both face fierce fights for their places from Jaime Lozano’s twin towers. Johan Vásquez and César Montes were both magnificent against a French forward line spearheaded by André-Pierre Gignac, with the Tigres titan barely given a sniff all afternoon.
Japan’s front line is not nearly as fearsome on paper, but the tricky Takefusa Kubo will have to be marshaled closely. The Real Madrid man produced the moment of magic that decided a difficult duel against a South Africa side that held out for the first 70 minutes, with a brilliant curling effort beating the desperate dive of rival goalkeeper Ronwen Williams.
The attacking ace is a constant threat that cannot be taken lightly, but Mexico are teeming with talent too. If they approach their remaining games with the right attitude, anything is possible for El Tri at this tournament.