Mexico's wound from humiliating Copa America defeat to Chile remains fresh
The memories of that day in Santa Clara still linger.
The final score was only part of the humiliation. Losing 7-0 to Chile in the Copa America Centenario at Levi's Stadium marked a generation of Mexican players, feeding into a longstanding narrative peddled by fans and media. The accusation made was for the veteran group of national teamers -- mostly based in Europe -- and that they were more interested in endorsement contracts and social media clapbacks than doing well on the pitch.
As they gear up to face each other two years later, a generational shift has begun, although old faces serve as a vivid reminder. "The [result] over Mexico was a perfect match by us," said Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal to Univision last week. "We went out there with total concentration."
Despite the constant reminders, both sides insist revenge is not on the agenda. Only six of the players who witnessed the debacle in Santa Clara firsthand are on the Mexican roster for this clash: Nestor Araujo, Jesus Corona, Jesus Duenas, Raul Jimenez, Hirving Lozano and Diego Reyes.
However, there is a more obvious respect for Chile as an opponent than there was for Costa Rica last Thursday. While interim manager Ricardo Ferretti trotted out a starting lineup with mostly young, Liga MX-based players against Los Ticos, the expectation for Tuesday's match in Queretaro is that the European-based elements will take center stage from the start.
In Monday's practice, El Tri featured a group that included Reyes, Araujo, Corona, Lozano and Jimenez, as well as Marco Fabian and Erick Gutierrez, all of whom play abroad.
"Against Chile, we'll see many changes," said Ferretti. Upon revealing that fans on Thursday pressured him to play Lozano, arguably the group's best player, the Tigres manager was adamant about saving the PSV winger for Chile. "I want to have him at 100 [percent] for the next game," he said in the post-match news conference in Monterrey.
For the current round of games, Mexico's soccer federation made the choice to take El Tri out of the Estadio Azteca, a decision that has been mostly fruitful for the team in the past. Of their past ten matches outside of Mexico City but within the confines of the country itself, the Mexicans have won eight games including the 3-2 win over Costa Rica last week.
On Tuesday, the match will be held at the Estadio Corregidora, which famously staged matches during the 1986 World Cup. More recently, the stadium was home to Ronaldinho, when the Brazilian star joined Queretaro in 2014. While a perceived lack of excitement for El Tri was heaved at fans in Monterrey last week, the match against Chile will surely draw attention.
"Our expectation is to go out and beat them," said Mexico midfielder Javier Guemez. "We need to compete with them at the highest level, it doesn't matter who's on the field."
Chile's call-up list did not disappoint fans who wanted to see their star-studded best: Alexis Sanchez (Manchester United), Vidal (Barcelona), Mauricio Isla (Fenerbahce) and Gary Medel (Besiktas) headline the group selected by manager Reinaldo Rueda.
Five players who ply their trade in Mexico's top division will also be available for Chile: Igor Lichnovsky (Cruz Azul), Angelo Sagal (Pachuca), Diego Valdes (Morelia), Lorenzo Reyes (Atlas) and Victor Davila (Necaxa) will be on hand.
While plenty of attention has been devoted to who is present for the game, those who are absent have also created a fair bit of headlines. Despite this being a FIFA international date, the core of Mexico's old guard were not selected this time around, prompting speculation of a rift between the team's leaders and the federation itself.
Prior to the match against Costa Rica, reports surfaced that Javier Hernandez, Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno, Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela and Andres Guardado, the squad's captain following the retirement of Rafa Marquez, were omitted on purpose by Ferretti because of a purported negative influence on the group.
Layun, the Villarreal wing-back, responded on Twitter, flatly denying there was any truth to the rumor. "We don't merely express an opinion," he wrote, "we believe that opinion is the absolute truth. We leave facts aside to talk about speculation, and the worst thing of all isn't talking about a subject, it's doing so without any knowledge on the subject."
Ironically, the aforementioned group were among those criticized the most for their role in Mexico's debacle against Chile two years ago. A more likely scenario for the omissions would be Ferretti's desire to give playing time to a younger group that will probably take the reins of the national team as it gears up for the next World Cup in 2022.
Regardless, the conversation as well as the expectation surrounding Mexico vs. Chile is a clear reminder that the wound created in Santa Clara is still open, and will remain so likely for years to come, unless El Tri can exact revenge in a more appropriate scenario than an international friendly date.