Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Mexican lead soccer coach announces World Cup roster

In anticipation of his team’s opening game in the 2022 World Cup next week, Mexico’s head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino has revealed his 26-man roster for the global soccer extravaganza in Qatar.

“El Tri” — the team’s nickname based on Mexico’s tri-colored flag — will open the 32-team tournament on Nov. 22 against Poland. Four days later, it will play superstar Lionel Messi and Argentina before closing the group stage Nov. 30 against Saudi Arabia.

The main criticisms of Martino’s roster is that it has been built from an aging player pool without any real direction for the future. That being said, there weren’t any major surprises in the Argentine’s final 26 picks.

One of the selections who warrants attention — especially with Mexico’s offensive starpower hampered by several key injuries — is 27-year-old winger Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, who plays for Napoli in Italy’s Serie A, the fourth-ranked league in the world (Mexico’s Liga MX ranks ninth). He was born in Mexico City, raised in El Pedregal (an upper-class neighborhood in the south part of the city) and recruited by the first-division Mexican team Pachuca to begin playing for its youth teams when he was just 11.

Mexico's roster for Qatar this year.
Mexico’s roster for Qatar this year. Twitter @miseleccionmx

Lozano scored an iconic goal in the last World Cup, in 2018 in Russia, to help Mexico stun defending champion Germany 1-0, and though he has battled injuries the past couple of years, his pace and creativity make him Mexico’s most dynamic forward. 

Midfielder Edson Álvarez, nicknamed “El Machín,” is another player on the roster worth checking out. A defensive-minded player from Tlalnepantla de Baz, in the state of México just north of Mexico City, Álvarez has played four years with perennial Dutch champion Ajax and has appeared in 58 international games for Mexico, a pretty high total for someone who just turned 25 last month.

For goalkeeping, Martino has turned to experience in 37-year-old Guillermo Ochoa, 40-year-old Alfredo Talavera, and 35-year-old Rodolfo Cota, who all play for teams in Mexico’s top division, Liga MX. Though Carlos Acevedo, 26, of Santos Laguna is seen by many as the best Mexican goalkeeper in Liga MX today, and certainly a future component of the national team, he has failed to catch Martino’s eye.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Ochoa will be Mexico’s starting goalkeeper. A standout goalie for one of Mexico’s marquee pro teams, Club América, Ochoa’s shaggy curls and aggressive style of play make him a highly recognizable player, and his stellar performance in a 0-0 tie against the host team, Brazil, in the 2014 World Cup cemented his status as Mexico’s top choice for years to come.

Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa at a recent practice.
Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa at a recent practice. Federación Mexicano de Fútbol

Ochoa has guided El Tri to some important wins and ties in each of the last two World Cups — helping Mexico continue an uncanny streak. For seven straight World Cups, Mexico has finished either first or second in its group, thus qualifying for the round of 16. 

But each time, Mexico has lost that next game in the round of 16, also called the knockout round, leaving the team and its rabid fans yearning for an elusive fifth game. Mexico hasn’t made it to that fifth game, the quarterfinals, since 1986, and the team has never advanced beyond that in any World Cup.

As always, the pressure is on for a better result this year, but even making it out of Group C won’t be easy for Mexico, currently ranked No. 13 in the world. Messi’s Argentina squad is ranked No. 3 and Poland is No. 26, so El Tri will have its hands full.

Mexico’s schedule in Doha, Qatar will be 10 a.m. Nov. 22 against Poland, 1 p.m. Nov. 26 against Argentina and 1 p.m. Nov. 30 against 51st-ranked Saudi Arabia.

Martino, who has said he feels like public enemy No. 1, has been under fire for a lot of uninspiring performances by the national team over the past couple of years, though overall, Mexico has played decently without being spectacular. Martino even reportedly turned in his resignation in September, but it wasn’t accepted by Mexican Football Federation officials and he was convinced to stay until after the World Cup.

For the time being, the Mexican team has set up camp in Girona, Spain, before departing to Qatar next week. El Tri played a World Cup tuneup match on Nov. 9 against Iraq, rolling to an easy 4-0 victory. Another friendly tuneup, this one against Sweden, is set for Wednesday, Nov. 16 at Estadi Montilivi in Girona, which is in Catalonia, Spain.

Porteros (goalkeepers):

  • Guillermo Ochoa, 37 (América, Liga MX)
  • Alfredo Talavera, 40 (Juárez, Liga MX)
  • Rodolfo Cota, 35 (León, Liga MX)

Defensas (defenders):

  • Jorge Sánchez, 24 (Ajax, Netherlands)
  • Néstor Araujo, 31 (América, Liga MX)
  • Gerardo Arteaga, 24 (Genk, Belgium)
  • Kevin Álvarez, 23 (Pachuca, Liga MX)
  • Jesús Gallardo, 28 (Monterrey, Liga MX)
  • Héctor Moreno, 34 (Monterrey, Liga MX)
  • César Montes, 25 (Monterrey, Liga MX)
  • Johan Vasquez, 23 (Cremonese, Italy)

Mediocampistas (midfielders):

  • Edson Álvarez, 24 (Ajax, Netherlands)
  • Orbelín Pineda, 26 (AEK, Greece)
  • Héctor Herrera, 37 (Houston Dynamo, U.S.)
  • Carlos Rodriguez, 25 (Cruz Azul, Liga MX)
  • Erick Gutiérrez, 27, (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands)
  • Luis Chávez, 26 (Pachuca, Liga MX)
  • Luis Romo, 27 (Monterrey, Liga MX)
  • Andrés Guardado, 36 (Real Betis, Spain)

Delanteros (forwards):

  • Roberto Alvarado, 24 (Chivas, Liga MX)
  • Uriel Antuna, 25 (Cruz Azul, Liga MX)
  • Alexis Vega, 24 (Chivas, Liga MX)
  • Henry Martin, 29 (América, Liga MX)
  • Hirving Lozano, 27 (Napoli, Italy)
  • Rogelio Funes Mori, 31 (Monterrey, Liga MX)
  • Raúl Jiménez, 31 (Wolverhampton, England)

With reports from El Economista, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated

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