Humiliation vs. Germany reveals how tall Mexico's task is at Russia 2018
SOCHI, Russia -- If anyone needed a barometer of how Mexico's 4-1 loss to Germany in Thursday's semifinal of the Confederations Cup was received back home, the country's greatest player, Hugo Sanchez, provided it.
The former Real Madrid striker talked about the structure of the Mexican game, the lack of autonomy of the league, national team and federation, and said those factors keep Mexico from making a jump to the next level. Sanchez added that teams such as Spain and Chile have been given the time and have had a consistent project behind them in order to achieve international success and join the elite.
In case anyone needed reminding, Mexico has struggled when confronted with elite-level competition. It's difficult to remember the last time El Tri defeated a top-quality opponent in a major tournament. Last summer, Mexico lost 7-0 to Copa America champions Chile, and world champions Germany swatted Mexico away on Thursday.
Indeed, Mexico has never won a knockout game in a World Cup outside the country, and its last such win came in 1986.
Sanchez, a former manager of the Mexico national team, went on to blame those who installed current manager Juan Carlos Osorio. Sanchez doesn't agree with Osorio's philosophy.
"We don't have the style to think that [things] will change between now and the World Cup," lamented Sanchez on ESPN. "Osorio is stubborn. He keeps his rotations, center-backs [play] as full-backs, forwards as wingers, and that will not help make the most of football in Mexico in the league and with the national team."
But while Sanchez may not agree with Osorio's philosophy -- and may still eye the job himself (if the power structure in Mexican football changes) -- he would surely accept that the Colombian deserves time and space to continue the process that hasn't yet helped El Tri reach new heights, but certainly hasn't been any worse than past performances and has shown some promise.
The victory of this so-called Germany reserve side, however, was decisive.
"We went up against the world champion, and it's been useful for Mexican football to know where we are," said Javier Hernandez after the game.
It was a key statement. The match summed up where Mexico is at. El Tri were handsomely beaten by a Germany side featuring a number of players who won't be featuring next year at the World Cup.
But Mexico wasn't without its merits in the game. El Tri had more than 60 percent of possession, had 26 shots (to Germany's 12), drew 17 fouls and forced keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen into seven saves compared to Guillermo Ochoa's three.
These statistics perhaps don't mean much in the emotional sense when you lose 4-1, but they do highlight that Mexico has a style. El Tri's real problem is depth of the player pool compared to the top nations. Not having injured defensive duo Diego Reyes and Carlos Salcedo meant Miguel Layun had to move over to the right and center-back Oswaldo Alanis came in at left-back. It left Mexico weak on the left side, something Germany exploited ruthlessly.
The world champions, on the other hand, are showing at the Confederations Cup and the European Under-21 Championship that every position is well-covered both now and for the foreseeable future.
"This was for us a 10-year plan," said Germany general manager Oliver Bierhoff on Thursday. "You can't change it in one or two years. Now you have to work with the players you have. It's good to have long-term investment, and every country that wants to improve the players has to do that."
What Osorio has at his disposal is significantly weaker than Germany manager Joachim Low's arsenal, as Thursday's game highlighted. Playing more Mexicans in Liga MX, and then exporting them to the best leagues in the world, is the most accessible path.
"The league is fundamental [to the growth of the Mexican game]," said Hernandez. "More than anything, for them to give opportunities to Mexican players like I got."
With many of Mexico's 18 first-division teams fielding about five or six foreigners in each starting 11, the opportunities for Mexicans are limited.
Osorio can't do too much about that, and the way his side came together in the Confederations Cup was positive. The worry is that in key games Mexico haven't been up to the test, although that is historical and not just down to Osorio, of course.
Mexico can ill-afford to change things up one year from the World Cup. Sanchez may not particularly like Osorio's style, but he is right in ascertaining that if Mexico is to step up and make the leap to the elite in the future, someone needs time overseeing the project.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.