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Stern tests ahead for Mexico

 By Tom Marshall

Juan Carlos Osorio to give Mexico fringe players a chance vs. Senegal

Mexico kicks off its 2016 campaign on Wednesday evening with a friendly against Senegal at Marlins Park in Miami, with lots of talk about the worth of the game and coach Juan Carlos Osorio insisting that he will be able to make firm conclusions.

"The lessons will surely be infinite and immense," said Osorio in Tuesday's news conference. "We wanted to bring a good group of players and we've done it."

The Colombian went on to state that the match offers an opportunity for El Tri's fringe players to stake a claim for a permanent spot moving forward and increase competition for places.

"Like we told [the players], the principal objective is that a number of the group is in the next call-up," the Mexico boss said. "We firmly believe that the best possibility to improve is more difficult and bitterly disputed internal competition."

That is the essence of this friendly, which pitches most of the Liga MX's best Mexican players against a domestic Senegal squad.

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There will be opportunities -- possibly a half each -- for midfielders Jesus Zavala and Jesus Molina, both of whom offer a different option from regular holding mids Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez and Jonathan dos Santos. Zavala was on the outside when Miguel Herrera was in charge, but has a wealth of international experience from Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre's time in charge.

The interaction between the left center-back Yasser Corona and either Carlos Salcedo and Nestor Araujo will be an important factor, according to Osorio. Certainly, Corona has an opportunity to establish himself in Mexico's squad moving forward, with his decent form for Queretaro since returning from injury and the dearth of left-footed Mexican center-backs playing regular first division soccer.

The same applies to Tigres right-back Israel Jimenez, who won Olympic gold in 2012, started getting regular national team call-ups in the aftermath, but then fell off the radar. And then there is Leon's attacking midfielder Luis Montes, who has struggled to get in the team after breaking his leg ahead of the World Cup in 2014.

The only players in this Mexico team that you could presently ink in to the squad for March's World Cup qualifying double-header against Canada are Jorge Torres Nilo and Jurgen Damm, which really does emphasize the experimental nature of the squad and the potential to impress Osorio.

Take the goalkeeping position, where Pumas' 34-year-old Alejandro "Pikolin" Palacios will likely make his debut and Cruz Azul's 35-year-old Jesus Corona will get another chance to show he deserves further involvement with El Tri, after missing out on the No. 1 spot for the last three World Cups.

Of the younger players, Erick Gutierrez, Hirving Lozano, Salcedo and Rodolfo Pizarro sprinkle some genuine intrigue onto the squad. All are set to feature for Mexico at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer and it really is anyone's guess how many full international caps they will rack-up between them.

Mexico's future rests in the hands of players like Hirving Lozano.

It was surely that quartet that Osorio was referring to when he stated that the squad is made up of some players for whom "an extraordinary future is predicted."

However, it will take something special during the 90 minutes against the African side to erase the stigma of the match being a partido molero (meaningless friendly).

It isn't really anything Osorio or the federation has done. As the coach hinted, getting top quality opposition for a friendly outside a FIFA international date isn't easy and never is considering the limitations clubs put on their players.

What has really driven the negativity about the match was Chivas owner Jorge Vergara only allowing defender Salcedo to attend the camp and then bluntly criticizing Osorio and the federation when they pointed out that the date of the game had been agreed on by all Liga MX owners, including Vergara.

The skirmish between Vergara and the national team re-opened the old debate about the amount of games Mexico plays and whether friendlies in the United States with little significance are the way forward for the national team.

Not that Osorio will be particularly bothered. The meticulous manager will know exactly what he wants to see from his players on Wednesday and will be hoping to extend his winning start to life as Mexico manager.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.


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