Mexico facing injury crisis, Giovani Dos Santos dilemma vs. Scotland
MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's traditional pre-World Cup send-off game in Estadio Azteca isn't to be taken too seriously.
Last time around, a then-41-year-old Cuauhtemoc Blanco -- currently running for the position of governor of the Mexican state of Morelos -- played 39 minutes in a 3-0 win over Israel. He was one of the better players. Fast forward four years and El Tri once again trotted out to Mexico's presidential residence for their official send-off on Thursday, with the usual proclamations made about bringing greatness to the country through the World Cup.
The ceremonial fanfare will continue Saturday with the farewell game against Scotland in Estadio Azteca. The match is sold out, but Mexico is unlikely to be stretched, and we are unlikely to be able to make firm conclusions about where El Tri is at heading into Russia 2018.
Alex McLeish's inexperienced Scotland squad has only three international goals between them, and only two players have over 10 caps. They're no comparison for the full-strength Germany side Mexico will face in Moscow on June 17, but there are issues that are vital for manager Juan Carlos Osorio. The manager said last Friday that the game against Scotland would be El Tri's last opportunity for injured or out-of-rhythm players to prove they are in top condition going into a World Cup.
It turns out that isn't the case. Osorio was careful to point out that injuries represent opportunities for other players, but the news from Friday's news conference that Diego Reyes, Andres Guardado and Hector Moreno won't be playing against Scotland has forced a change of opinion.
All three are vital players for Mexico and Osorio gave an important hint that all three -- plus Nestor Araujo, who has already left the squad -- had been scheduled to start against Germany.
"I have to say that I have documents from April 5 and April 7 in which we had already decided the 11 against Germany," said Osorio on Friday. "And because of the injuries, there are four out; it's changed and is now a lot."
The FIFA deadline for naming the 23-player squad is June 4, but Mexico travels to Denmark for its final friendly on Sunday evening and Osorio will take 25 players, hoping that the three injury concerns recover in time for the June 9 friendly against Denmark.
Then there is the Giovani Dos Santos dilemma. The debate over whether the LA Galaxy forward will be in the squad continues. It will be interesting to see whether Osorio starts Dos Santos, which would be a true test of where he is at, both athletically and in terms or form and confidence. This is a player who has completed just one full 90 minutes since last October.
The other related issue is how much the other fringe players can still do to earn their spot at this late stage. Osorio is likely to have already made up his mind, and Jurgen Damm, Erick Gutierrez and Oswaldo Alanis and one other of Dos Santos, Edson Alvarez or Hugo Ayala could well be on the outside.
Of course, the XI that starts against Scotland is not going to be a Mexico "A" team. Osorio will likely strike a balance between getting players like Marco Fabian, Moreno, Guillermo Ochoa and Raul Jimenez minutes while protecting others.
"We avoided the temptation of putting Hirving Lozano against Wales, and we are still debating whether to play him tomorrow," said Osorio, adding he couldn't imagine not being without the 22-year-old at the World Cup.
The goal against Scotland, aside from avoiding the boos that would reign down in case of a draw or loss, is to keep the players fit.
"In the end, the games we have to win are the ones in the World Cup," Osorio said.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.