World Cup 2022: Does Mexico’s Squad Have Enough to Escape Group C?
If you’re a fan of the USMNT, you’ll know that Mexico can’t be overlooked in the soccer space. El Tri might not have the biggest names on their roster, but they’ll always put up a fight, especially at the World Cup. The 2022 edition of the tournament, however, could present a stiff challenge.
Mexico landed in Group C alongside Argentina, Poland, and Saudi Arabia. The presence of Lionel Messi means that Argentina is a safe bet to advance into the knockout stages, leaving one place left for the remaining three sides.
With that slim margin for error, let’s take a look at the Mexican squad. Is there enough talent to be the best of the rest?
Mexico’s 2022 World Cup squad
For the most part, Mexico’s World Cup squad plies their trade in Liga MX. While that might mean they’re not on the global radar in the same way that players in the big European leagues are, that shouldn’t be seen as an indictment of their talent.
Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (Club America), Rodolfo Cota (Leon), Alfredo Talavera (Juarez)
Defenders: Nestor Araujo (Club America), Jesus Gallardo (Monterrey), Gerardo Artega (Genk), Hector Moreno (Monterrey), Jorge Sanchez (Ajax), Johan Vazquez (Cremonese), Cesar Montes (Monterrey), Kevin Alvarez (Pachuca)
Midfielders: Erick Gutierrez (PSV), Orbelin Peneda (AEK Athens), Hector Herrera (Houston Dynamo), Carlos Rodriguez (Cruz Azul), Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Roberto Alvarado (Chivas), Edson Alvarez (Ajax), Luis Chavez (Pachuca), Uriel Antuna (Cruz Azul), Luis Romo (Monterrey)
Forwards: Hirving Lozano (Napoli), Rogelio Fuenes Mori (Monterrey), Henry Martin (Club America), Raul Jimenez (Wolves), Alexis Vega (Chivas)
So, how do all those names fit together? Let’s try to piece everything together.
Guillermo Ochoa has a history of World Cup heroics
If you’re active on social media, you’ve probably seen some memes about Memo Ochoa turning into an all-time great whenever the World Cup arrives. Those posts are obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there is a kernel of truth behind them.
In 2014, the goaltender stood on his head. He shone again in 2018 and, while it’s not a World Cup, made the difference during the 2019 Gold Cup. For whatever reason, he simply seems to step up when the lights shine the brightest.
Is Ochoa a top-notch goalie starring for one of Europe’s biggest clubs? No, but he shouldn’t be taken for granted at the World Cup.
Mexico’s defense isn’t going to blow anyone away
One of the conundrums that stretches across multiple sports is how to assess defense. A unit, for example, could concede plenty of chances but keep a clean sheet. Depending on the metric you’re looking at, that could suggest they played an awful defensive game or did exactly what they needed to do. No matter your perspective, though, Mexico’s backline won’t be stealing the show.
While the wealth of meaningless matches since the end of qualifying can muddy the waters, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Mexico start with a rearguard consisting of Jorge Sanchez, Nestor Araujo, Hector Moreno, and Jesus Gallardo. While there could be some wrinkles — Johan Vásquez and Cesar Montes are in the squad, for example, and could provide alternate partners for Moreno — I don’t think it will change too much. I’d consider Montes due to his passing range –when you’re going against the likes of Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski, it will take more than back-against-the-wall defending — but manager Tata Martino may prefer a “safer” option.
Perhaps it’s best that Ochoa is in net because he’ll probably be a busy man.
The midfield will feature two established veterans and one younger talent
At the risk of invoking a soccer cliche, the midfield is the engine room that propels a successful team forward. Mexico will certainly have some experienced operators in that part of the pitch.
Hector Herrera is 32 years old and has more than 100 Mexico caps. Andres Guardado has him beat in both departments, though. El Principito just turned 36 and has played for El Tri over 175 times. The third man in midfield, Edson Alvares, may seem like a comparative baby at 25, but even he has suited up for more than 50 senior international matches.
Alvares is certainly the one to watch from this unit. He plays something of a do-it-all role for Ajax and has been linked to some bigger clubs around Europe. Can this be the tournament that earns him a move? Herrera and Guardado profile similarly — the former will dictate play a bit more, while the latter provides some additional defensive stability — trying to get on the ball and pull the strings for Mexico’s attack.
The question, however, is rather simple: Does this trio provide enough, either from a defensive or offensive perspective? Or is this an (aging) Jack-of-all-trades situation?
Mexico’s forwards are a bit of a question mark
If you’re a fan of European soccer, you’ll probably be familiar with some of Mexico’s attackers. That also means you’ll be familiar with their strengths and weaknesses.
It’s a safe bet to pencil Hirving Lozano as the left-most man in a front three. Chucky is a classic inverted winger, capable of driving at defenses and cutting inside onto his stronger foot. It’s fair to wonder if he has the scoring touch to carry the team through a major tournament, though. Barring his time at PSV, he’s never been one to post eye-popping goal numbers.
The central striker will probably be Raul Jimenez, almost by default. Santiago Giménez isn’t in the squad, and I think starting Rogelio Funes Mori in a World Cup would be a big call for Tata Martino to make. The Wolves striker unfortunately hasn’t been himself since suffering a scary head injury in 2020. He works hard and tries to function as a target man, but the goals have really dried up. It is worth noting, however, that Giménez could get called up if Jimenez isn’t fit to play, so this could still change.
With Jesus Corona injured and out of the squad, the right-wing role will belong to either Alexis Vega or Henry Martin. I give Vega a bit of edge — I’m assuming Martin will serve as more of an all-purpose auxiliary forward –but I’m not married to either option.
What will Mexico’s lineup look like in Qatar?
At this point, I’d peg Mexico’s starting 11 to look something like the above graphic. As always, though, there are a few bigger-picture notes to flag.
- On the whole, I’m concerned about Mexico’s lack of youth and quality. Tata Martino is a coach who relies on experience, so the composition of his squad shouldn’t be surprising, but it isn’t exactly encouraging. Someone like Andres Guardado, for example, is a living legend, but starting a 36-year-old usually isn’t the recipe for World Cup success.
- To further expand on that point, I just don’t see many goals in Mexico’s front line. That could change if Santiago Giménez gets a late injury-related call-up, but even if he arrives in Qatar, it’s not like El Tri are adding prime Cristiano Ronaldo to the roster.
- The composition of this group could be both a blessing and a curse for Mexico. If we assume that Argentina will advance, that means El Tri, Poland, and Saudi Arabia are fighting for the second ticket to the knockout rounds. On one hand, that shrinks the margins, increasing the risk that Tata Martino’s side simply won’t have the quality on either end of the pitch to advance. On the other, though, it makes the squad’s collective experience that much more valuable. If Group C essentially boils down to a single elimination match, it’s tempting to trust the nation with a history of finding ways to advance.
So, when things kick off in Qatar, will experience or talent make the difference? At this point, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.