Mexico and Juan Carlos Osorio's World Cup master plan has been months in the making
As soon as the Mexico national team found out last December who their opponents would be at the World Cup in Russia, Juan Carlos Osorio's master plan was set in motion -- a plan that would allow the team to take on every rival "with the best possible preparation," according to the manager.
The Colombian, along with his technical team and board, developed an unprecedented plan for the national team who would take part in the World Cup. El Tri adopted an approach of "in order to achieve different results, you have to do things differently," and this is exactly what they did during the six months leading up to Russia 2018.
During this time, Mexico's technical team analyzed every detail of the teams they would face in the group stage, even looking at their potential opponents in the round of 16. However, their focus remained on Germany, South Korea and Sweden.
In order to carry out its plan, the technical team traveled around the world watching their impending foes' matches in person; not only national teams, but also at club level. They also relied on video analyses and statistics of the national team, a department headed up by Irving Mendoza.
Dennis te Kloese, director of national selection, spoke to ESPN about some of the work his staff did to prepare for the World Cup: "From the moment the draw took place, every match was analyzed together with the assistant managers of Osorio and Juan Carlos Ortega. Afterwards they would analyze each video together, edited by player and by line, as well as additional German matches in order to determine trends."
All the data collected was analyzed in the finest detail and later uploaded to a digital platform called SISEL. The platform contained edited videos of every player of every rival team, their movements, their trends, their way of playing as well as any other detail that might be important. Once the information was uploaded to the platform, it was shared with Mexico's players so they could study it.
Mendoza further explained the role of the department of video and statistics in an interview on the national team's Twitter account: "A statistical analysis is applied to each video. For example: Who, in the opponent's team, is more adept at clearing the ball in the goal area? This has to be supported by a statistical analysis based on the last 25 games, looking at how the player best clears the ball and to which side. Usually we would watch four or five previous matches to analyze who is playing, how they play and where they play. Afterwards we look at each player's function and interpret it based on a sample of who we are going to face."
Osorio had calculated everything to perfection. He analyzed every opposing player's movements, the trends of their managers, their tactical delays, their substitutes, as well as how they react under specific circumstances, such as winning or losing. They worked around the clock for six months.
"We developed a plan about six months ago. Due to injuries we had to change some players in certain matches, but the plan always remained the same: to have quick players on the wings," Osorio explained moments after Mexico's World Cup-opening 1-0 victory against Germany.
And the plan was perfect. Before playing Germany, the players already knew everything about their opponent in Moscow. The only thing left to do was to execute the plan. There were no casualties in the starting lineup, nor after substitutions -- which were carefully selected based on the flow of the match.
"We were rehearsing all week. We changed to a five-formation at the back," Carlos Salcedo said about the team's preparations for the match against the defending champions. "Osorio weighed up possible scenarios; how would we change the match if we were losing, or winning, and what would be the best scenario during the last few minutes? The manager did a great job in playing five at the back and three midfielders."
Even though there was more focus on Germany -- being the first match of the tournament and arguably the toughest group match on paper -- the same was done for the matches against South Korea, set for Saturday, and Sweden, next Wednesday. Ortega, who works as a selector for the junior team, has played an important role in supporting El Tri in terms of analyzing its upcoming foes. Particularly in the case of South Korea, whom Mexico played at the Olympics two years ago. Back then, South Korea's senior team boss Shin Tae-yong was already the coach of the junior team.
After Mexico's victory over Germany, the team did not allow themselves too many celebrations Sunday. The immediate focus was the plan against South Korea, and Osorio gave a glimpse Wednesday of some of his ideas:
"Against Germany, we knew that Joshua Kimmich and Marvin Plattenhardt were going to be very offensive, but we think it will be different against Korea. They saw what Hirving Lozano and Miguel Layun did and will probably not attack on the wings. This tells me that we'll need players with skill and not necessarily speed," Osorio told ESPN.
El Tri did not leave anything to chance. In previous matches leading up to the World Cup, Osorio opted for a starting lineup that was completely different from the one used in Russia. This was tricky, as it led to poor results and negative public opinion, and Osorio admitted he struggled with that.
"It was hard dealing with so much criticism and putting up with everything, knowing that this was not the final XI," he said. "Not against Wales, Scotland or Denmark. And I would have to be very specific in my statements and not give too much away, because we suspected that they would be analyzing us just as much as we were analyzing them. And if not, so much the better."
Crucially, the players have always believed in Osorio and his tactics. It is little wonder then that the players dedicated Sunday's victory to him. They are also motivated by the work done by their psychology coach, Imanol Ibarrondo, who is a crucial part of the team's structure.
"We dedicate this victory to him, because nobody deserves it more than he does. He has worked hard and suffered a lot, and nobody believed in him except us. But he planned this brilliantly," Rafael Márquez said after Sunday's victory over Germany.
The Mexican team is dreaming big, and they believe the plan will deliver results. The only thing remaining is to execute the plan and to adapt to the varying circumstances each match will throw at them.