Veterans pushing Mexico ahead
Six or seven months ago, a great deal of talk in the Mexican media focused on the youth of the national team. Which was understandable at the moment.
It seemed appropriate to shed some skin after most of the national team had completely failed during 2013.
Isaac Brizuela, Carlos Peña, Hector Herrera, Raul Jimenez, Alan Pulido and countless others were then seen as the new face of Mexico. They were destined to be the saviors. A changing of the guard would need to happen before the World Cup, and El Tri would likely rely on this new batch of young talent.
Perhaps everybody, including me, were a bit too audacious to overlook Mexico's veterans. Sure, Herrera has become one of Mexico's best players, but it's the older veterans with more international experience who have emerged as Mexico's heroes.
Rafael Marquez is one veteran whom I initially did not want on the national team. I wasn't alone, either. Critics saw him as a time bomb and a hindrance to the defensive pace. Even when things were beginning to look better for him in 2013 with Club Leon, Marquez received another vintage red card in April during the Copa Libertadores.
Regardless of his past performances, Marquez has been in outstanding form this World Cup for Mexico. He still gets unnecessary fouls on the pitch, but he compensates for them with his long-range passes and positive defensive influence.
His goal against Croatia drastically changed the momentum and flow of the game. For that alone, Marquez has been hugely significant for El Tri.
Then there is Andres Guardado.
Fun fact: Guardado's one goal in this World Cup matches his scoring total for Bayer Leverkusen and Valencia put together. This is a perfect representation of his surprising transformation as of late.
The midfielder seemed to have reached his peak after his Deportivo de La Coruna days but has recently found a second wind in his career. Guardado has shockingly become one of Mexico's better attacking threats and has had little trouble assimilating into Miguel Herrera's 5-3-2 system. He should be recognized for his surprising impact in this World Cup, as well as Herrera for his key decision to place him in the starting lineup.
Finally, one must consider Guillermo Ochoa. He has been a member of Mexico's two previous World Cup squads but made his debut in the tournament when he started in the game against Cameroon a couple of weeks ago.
Ochoa played second fiddle to Oswaldo Sanchez and Oscar Perez back in 2006 and 2010, respectively. Now, the free-agent goalkeeper will have European clubs salivating at the idea of signing him for the next season.
Since his debut at the beginning of the tournament, Ochoa has arguably been Mexico's best player this World Cup. There were doubts over whether he or Jesus Corona should have the starting role in net, but I highly doubt there are many Ochoa naysayers at this point.
The 28-year-old has already made headlines around the world and will be given another chance to shine Sunday, when Mexico takes on the Netherlands in the round of 16.
Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.