On Friday, September 1, 2017 Mexico defeated Panama 1-0 and in doing so became the fifth team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. That’s a full three rounds ahead of when the CONCACAF Elimination ends. This is impressive in a number of ways especially considering the past performances of the Mexican National team in regards to World Cup Qualification. In 2014, Mexico finished fourth in the hexagonal and had to go to a playoff home and away series against New Zealand to qualify but the most uncomfortable thing about qualifying to Brazil is that it came down to the USMNT beating Panama in the last minute which even allowed Mexico to go to the playoff. For 2010 it came down to the last round and Mexico finished second to the US. The last comfortable qualification to the World Cup came in 2006 under the Argentinian manager Ricardo LaVolpe. Mexico qualified “walking” to the World Cup, but even then Mexico finished 2nd. Outside of the times Mexico hosted the cup there’s never been a qualification to the World Cup as easy as this one and yet there’s no shortage of negative viewpoints towards this Mexico team from its manager, to the players, to the style of play of the team. This raises the question, what does success look like for the Mexican National Soccer Team?
Earlier in the summer, the Mexico National Team competed in both the Confederations Cup and the CONCACAF Gold Cup, not winning either of them. Mexico exited the Confederations cup after losing 4-1 to Germany, who went on to win the thing, and played in the third place match against Portugal which it also lost. The loss was punctuated by Mexico Manager Juan Carlos Osorio being suspended from the sidelines for six matches which barely ended in the match of September 1st. This means that throughout the Gold Cup, Mexico’s manager was not on the sidelines, he wasn’t allowed to manage during the game and was left at the press box for the entire tournament. The Gold Cup was lost and by that I mean Mexico failed to reach the finals by losing to Jamaica in semi finals. This summer could be seen as a failure if we just look at those two. Not to mention the previous summer during which Mexico suffered its most embarrassing loss in history by losing 7-0 in the Copa America quarter final to eventual winner Chile. To all of this I say, who cares?
Let’s take a step back and look at the performance of the Mexican National team since Osorio took over. Since October 2015, Juan Carlos Osorio has led the team for 37 matches. 26 of those have been wins, 6 of them draws, and 5 of them losses. That’s a 70.2% win rate. Joachim Low of Germany has a 68.2% win rate. Fernando Santos of Portugal has a 69.04% win rate. Mexico’s national team under Osorio is winning at the same rate as the greats of Europe. Out of the 5 losses that Mexico has suffered, two of them have been against the giants mentioned above, one against Croatia and the shlacking against Chile. The one loss that by all accounts “shouldn’t” have happened has been the loss against Jamaica in the Gold Cup. The pessimist's view of these results are that Mexico “shouldn’t” lose to world class teams like Germany, Chile, or Portugal and perhaps that’s true but the simple fact remains that under Osorio the team hasn’t faced many European opponents and that will definitely change in the future.
This is because the goal of the team wasn’t to beat European teams. The goal of the team wasn’t to win the Copa America, or Confederations, or even the 2017 Gold Cup. The goal of the team has always been to qualify to the world cup FIRST and to have a good role there. I believe that the grand fault of the Mexican soccer fan has been in its short sightedness. Any flashy tournament that gets thrown up there, they want the National team to win. The Mexican fan will point at the German team or Brazilian team and say, “look they can compete in multiple competitions”, but the simple fact remains that Mexico’s talent pool isn’t as big as the Brazilian and the confederation isn’t as well organized as the German one. For years Mexico has been in this bubble of the CONCACAF that has allowed it to look like a giant and at times made the team spread itself too thin and compete in cups that it shouldn’t (Copa America) have been chasing. This view of the team as a big powerhouse, the drive to appease the masses and the megalomaniac team owners and members of the media has been what has made this team fail time and time again.
The role model for THIS generation of Mexico’s national team should be the 2014 Costa Rica team. In 2014 Costa Rica qualified second in the hexagonal and prepared for the World Cup by having friendlies against “big” teams and different teams that would give their team a different taste than what they’ve been facing in CONCACAF. By the time the cup arrived they played to a defined style that all the players adhered to and didn’t waver in it, a strong defense anchored by a strong goal keeper and playing off the counter. This worked, and Costa Rica finished fourth, that’s the best by any CONCACAF team in history.
Mexico is going to the world cup, goal met. Now, Mexico needs to prepare for the World Cup. In the months ahead Osorio must prepare his team by defining a style, defining a squad, and setting a goal for the tournament itself. I don’t think Mexico can outright win a world cup, but a top four finish is not out of the question. The biggest difference between Mexico and Costa Rica is that the Ticos had the same system in place 7 years prior to 2014 and Mexico changes managers just about every other year. The media, the fans, the owners must realize that winning a World Cup takes commitment and a long term view, it also means maybe you don’t win every tournament your team is in and it definitely means your team doesn’t assist every tournament it’s invited to. Until this is understood Mexico’s success won’t be measured by Word Cup wins, but instead will continue to be measured by Gold Cup wins or Friendlies in LA that have been sold out.