Mexico coach Hector Herrera will use Wednesday’s friendly with Nigeria in Atlanta as an audition for his Europe-based players. The match represents the first time that Herrera has included those playing outside of Mexico after eschewing the opportunity to do so for the World Cup playoff with New Zealand last November and then being unable to do so in the friendly with South Korea in January. It is also the last chance that Herrera will get to see them before he names his provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup on May 13.
Given the woeful struggles that the team, centered around its stars from across the Atlantic, endured during 2013 and the improvement witnessed against New Zealand and South Korea, several once certain starters for El Tri now have plenty to prove.
Not least Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. The forward has cut an increasingly forlorn figure for both club and country in the past year, a particular problem for a player who relies on his sharpness in the box. His struggles came to a head when the Manchester United man missed a penalty in Mexico’s penultimate CONCACAF qualifier with Panama that could well have cost his country a place in the World Cup had it not been for Raul Jimenez’s late heroics.
Hernandez, who has started just one match in the past two months, will start up front with Oribe Peralta against Nigeria. It means Herrera is giving another chance to a partnership that has so far failed to spark. With both strikers having similar qualities, they often made the same runs to reduce the effectiveness of both. Hernandez now has particular incentive to make sure he can make a partnership work because Peralta’s form for Mexico has been outstanding of late — scoring eight goals in his last five appearances.
In midfield, Porto’s Hector Herrera will get a chance to stake his claim. Big things were expected of him after his part in helping Mexico to Olympic gold in 2012, but he fell out of favor during Mexico’s qualifying campaign and has struggled for minutes following his move to Porto. Now getting more games in Portugal, things look more positive for the 23-year-old’s chances.
Herrera will line-up alongside Leon’s Luis Montes and either Javier Aquino or Club America’s Juan Carlos Medina. Aquino’s Villarreal teammate, Giovani dos Santos, has been ruled out with an injury, however, meaning that one of El Tri’s stars misses the opportunity to show he can be a real talisman for the team as well as fit into Herrera’s 3-5-2 formation.
That job should be easier for another high-profile name from Europe, who will start as the left wing-back in Atlanta, Andres Guardado. While he has generally been used as a left winger at international level, Guardado was moved back to left-back at Valencia and has been used similarly since joining Bayer Leverkusen on loan in January.
In the center of defense, Espanyol’s Hector Moreno comes in to add quality alongside the one player Herrera has confirmed as a starter in Brazil, veteran Rafa Marquez, and youngster Diego Reyes. The highly rated 21-year-old has enjoyed even fewer opportunities than Herrera at Porto and has spent most of his time playing for the Portuguese club’s B team. Finally, in goal, Guillermo Ochoa will start as he faces the tough task of ousting Jesus Corona for the No.1 jersey.
Mexico’s opponents have been chosen with their group game against another African side, Cameroon, in mind. And Nigeria should pose a stern test. While they do not have the star names of the late 1990s, Stephen Keshi has built a united team that caused a significant surprise in claiming the African Cup of Nations crown last year.