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May 27, 2014

Five things to watch: Mexico-Israel friendly

If I didn't know any better, I would say the Mexican national team appear to be preparing for a party more than a vital friendly against Israel. Miguel Herrera and friends seem to be taking a record-breaking amount of "selfies," the squad just finished meeting President Enrique Peña Nieto, and let's not forget the fact that Cuauhtemoc Blanco, 41, has been training with the team for his upcoming appearance in said friendly.

I'm joking, I know that Herrera has trained the squad heavily, and meeting the President is a traditional send-off before the World Cup. Also, it may be random team selfies, but those group photos say plenty about the current energy and excitement that has seldom been seen from the team in the recent past. The Blanco situation, on the other hand, will be categorized under "Mexico preparing for a party" section.

Considering the fact that Herrera has already announced his starting eleven, let's take a look at the five players or positions to watch during Mexico's first of four final friendlies before the World Cup.

Jesus Corona

The starting position as Mexico's goalkeeper is Jesus Corona's to lose. Miguel Herrera seems to favor the 33 year-old over Alfredo Talavera and Guillermo Ochoa, but he announced that each goalkeeping option will be given a game to prove themselves before the World Cup. Corona will be given 90 minutes against Israel to justify his position.

Because Ochoa and Talavera are both quality options, Corona will need to make no mistakes on Wednesday if he wants to solidify himself as Mexico's starting goalkeeper.

Left-back/Left wing-back

Miguel Layun is currently the undisputed best option for Mexico at left-back and will be starting on Wednesday against Israel. Yet, with Andres Guardado and Miguel Ponce vying for a backup position, I wouldn't be too surprised if either were subbed in during the second half of the match. Ponce has been on better form recently but Guardado still has the abilities to stand-out among his peers. Guardado has much more experience, but Ponce has been much more effective on the pitch.

Herrera will need to figure out his back-up to Layun before heading to Brazil.

Defensive midfield

For months, a few critics (including myself) wondered whether Hector Herrera could be Mexico's perfect defensive midfielder. The 24-year-old has played as both an attacking and defensive midfielder for Porto this season and is set to start in the defensive spot for Mexico. Juan Carlos Medina would typically play in this position, but after his recent injury, Hector Herrera, Carlos Salcido, and Jose Juan Vazquez were all left to fill the void. Salcido is a bit too slow for the position, but Vazquez might be a great option as well.

Vazquez was excellent for Leon this season and could be a slightly better defensive option than Herrera. Yet if Herrera can control the midfield, he could prove to be an exciting player to watch in Mexico's movement forward.

Second Striker

The question remains, which player will Miguel Herrera start next to Oribe Peralta?

Peralta, like Jesus Corona, has plenty of competition beneath him but needs to continue playing well for Mexico if he wants to stay as a starter. For Wednesday, and it hurts me to write this, Cuauhtemoc Blanco will be playing with Peralta up top. Luckily, Blanco is only scheduled to play for about 10 to 20 minutes in his El Tri farewell, which I'm sure is the most he can really play anyways.

Herrera has said he would consider Javier Hernandez or Raul Jimenez as possible substitutions for Blanco during the friendly. Both players are itching for playing time before the World Cup and will likely play their hearts out. Hernandez, who is still the face of the national team, has yet to score for Mexico since last summer and would love to once again be one of El Tri's best players.

Cuauhtemoc Blanco

It's going to be hard to ignore Cuauhtemoc Blanco. I hate the fact that he is participating in the match, but there is something bittersweet about the player who has always been a subtle villain for me. Blanco will be the elephant in the room for a short time and anything he does will be noteworthy. If he scores a goal, there's no telling how the media or fans will respond to the incident just weeks away from the World Cup.