For the Mexican national soccer team, qualification for Brazil 2014 World Cup was supposed to be a breeze. After a perfect preliminary round in which they won every game, a great run of results in friendlies, and capturing the 2011 Gold Cup, there seemed to be no stopping "Chepo" de la Torre's men. This all came crashing down in 2013.
This year, the team has yet to win at home and has only managed to score one goal in the Azteca. They have won two games: one away in qualifying and one versus Ivory Coast played in the United States. Three ties at home and one very painful loss to Honduras now has the team in 5th place of the Hexagonal, down in goal differential and fighting for their World Cup lives.
Let's rewind to why this should be a great team. First, the youth squads have swept through competition from the U-20 tournament in 2011 (3rd place) to outright winning tournaments with U17 (2011) and more impressively at the Olympics 2012 in a final against Brazil. Add to this players like Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad), Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), Andres Guardado (Valencia), Hector Herrera (Porto), Javier Aquino (Villarreal), Hector Moreno (Espanyol), Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna), Aldo de Nigris (Guadalajara), among others in the domestic league. Let's not forget that Liga MX is one of 3 top leagues in this hemisphere.
But the fate of certain players both domestically and abroad and de la Torre's unwillingness to call up specific players has not gone unnoticed. Carlos Vela, for example, hasn't played for the national team since 2011 due to a bad relationship with Mexico's front office. This in spite of him being a top goalscorer in the Spanish La Liga and having done his early years with Arsene Wenger and Arsenal.
Then there is Chicharito Hernandez. He hasn't been the same ever since an injury in 2012 and then another one earlier this year. Chicharito was pushed down the depth chart at United with the transfer of Van Persie and the steady play by Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney. He's still an impact player but has yet to reclaim his status as an indispensable, fearsome goalscorer.
The back line for Mexico hasn't fared well either. Constant changes and the decline and replacement of the old guard (Salcido, Marquez, Magallon) has the defense in flux. The same usually occurs for most teams but it has been quite painful to see with Mexico. Ayala and Severo Meza have not been convincing enough.
Added to the back line is a midfield that just isn't producing. Despite having a relatively youthful group with the likes of Aquino and Herrera, the defensive middle isn't communicating well with the forward or rear flanks or we'd be seeing more goals for and less goals against.
Lastly there's de la Torre, Mexico officials unwillingness to let him go earlier, and the style of play he imposed on this squad. De la Torre should probably have gone after the Confederations Cup or maybe even before. He went from a pure possession and attack mentality under Aguirre to a highly-defensive game demeaning to years of development in Mexican teams. For this one only needs to look at the youth squads. Their momentum was halted with the senior team.
What can Mexico do now? Win both remaining games, to start. The key game versus Panama October 13 will decide whether they even have a shot at an intercontinental playoff. A loss leaves them pretty much out and a tie gives them merely a mathematical advantage. Even a win, unless it's by a significant margin might not be enough if the Aztecas do not win at Costa Rica as well.
Enter Vucetich. The former Monterrey head coach now has control over this squad. He has a fresh perspective, attacking mentality and desire to bring only the best players to the team, including Vela. He can make this team be as formidable as it can be, as dominant as it should be, and as great as their fans deserve. Failing to qualify for 2014 is not an option.