Five things we've learned about Mexico at the Confederations Cup
SOCHI, Russia -- The primary objective of the Mexico national team at the Confederations Cup was to get through a tricky group. With that in the bag, El Tri now faces its toughest test so far in the semifinal against a young Germany side that is improving with every game.
Here's what we have learned about Mexico so far:
1. Jonathan dos Santos, Hector Herrera providing midfield balance
It's been a rocky ride for Jonathan dos Santos in his Mexico career, but the Villarreal midfielder has stepped out of his brother's shadow and become a central figure for El Tri during the Confederations Cup. The intensity, sharp passing, pressing and game intelligence are all hallmarks of his upbringing at Barcelona's La Masia, and after his displays in Russia, it's difficult to comprehend why it has taken the 27-year-old so long to really establish himself at international level.
Part of that has been Dos Santos' position. In the games against Portugal and Russia, he played on the right of a midfield three, with Hector Herrera holding and Andres Guardado, who is suspended against Germany, on the left. Dos Santos has mainly been considered a defensive midfielder, but he has played on the right of midfield for Villarreal and looks to have found his place with Mexico in the midfield three.
The way Herrera has established himself in the holding role also has been a major positive for El Tri. Mexico has the highest percentage of possession of any team in the tournament so far, and Porto's Herrera has been vital playing almost the quarterback role, distributing the ball and starting the team's attacks as Rafa Marquez once did.
2. Squad unity shining through
Whether it is social media videos and photos of Miguel Layun's pastelazo on his birthday on Sunday, Javier Hernandez saying "we all work our asses off" or the way Mexico celebrates goals as a group, the team spirit within this group appears strong.
Mental coach Imanol Ibarrondo came into the camp in November, and things seem to be working out, with Mexico coming from behind in its last four games. Osorio talks of "opportunity" when the chance comes up in news conferences, he stresses his team's "resilience" and the players are even giving more assured and concise news conferences.
3. Osorio won't be changing rotation policy
Nobody expected Osorio to completely betray his rotation policy, but after last summer's Copa America Centenario disaster, there was a feeling he might temper it slightly. That hasn't happened. The Colombian coach used 22 of his 23 players in the group stage, generating the sense that each one is valuable and could play at any time.
Against Russia, El Tri looked energized in the second half as the hosts wilted, although changing eight players to face New Zealand was criticized back in Mexico, with the performance hardly inspiring. The 2-1 victory followed by the win over Russia meant the group stage went as planned, but it wasn't without a major scare against the side from Oceania.
4. There's still room for improvement
There have been flashes of brilliance from Mexico. There are passages of play in each game that make the mind start to really believe in this team. The cross-field passes to change the angle of attacks and the mix of shorter balls with longer ones out to the wings from the center-backs shows Osorio's hand.
But Mexico still hasn't put a full 90 minutes together, and the moments of excellence are let down by sloppy periods. There is still a doubt about the defensive stability. Mexico is conceding too many chances, and an efficient German side will likely pounce if El Tri doesn't get it right in the semifinal.
At the other end of the pitch, the final incisive pass is often missing, with Mexico reaching the final third and then lacking the inventiveness to create chances.
5. Marquez making transition to assistant
It was no coincidence that when Mexico defeated Russia to secure its place in the Confederations Cup semifinal, the first person Osorio went up to embrace was Marquez.
The Atlas defender has only played 22 minutes in this tournament and only 44 since the squad came together more than a month ago. But that doesn't mean Marquez hasn't been useful.
The former Barcelona player can be seen on the touchline, giving out advice to players, and he is no doubt maintaining his leadership role in the camp.
We saw the same thing last summer in the Copa America Centenario, and now it has intensified. It might seem as if it is a waste bringing a player along to Russia that was recovering from injury, but Marquez's influence on the group still runs deep, even if he isn't always on the field.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.