Many pundits have struggled to put a finger on what's been causing Mexico's lengthy struggles in 2013, but Ivory Coast striker Salomon Kalou might have an answer:
Lack of veteran leadership.
Kalou and the Ivory Coast will face Mexico in a friendly on Aug. 14 at the MetLife Stadium in the New York City area. Kalou, who has 57 international caps and 21 goals for Les Elephants, believes that Mexico has all the talent to be a World Cup contender but feels that El Tri has become too focused on its young starlets since last year's Olympic success.
"Since they've won the Olympics, a lot of those young players were brought to the first team," Kalou explained to Goal. "When you have a young team, you need players who can step in and direct the team, to provide the leadership on the team.
"I think right now they have so much young talented players on that team that they are missing the experienced players that they used to have before like [Rafa] Marquez."
If there's any team in the world that wants 2013 to end, it's Mexico. The team started brilliantly under head coach Jose Manuel "El Chepo" de la Torre, winning the Gold Cup and seeing its youth sides captivate the imagination of El Tri fans. The U-17 team won the World Cup and the U-23 team won the Olympics. However, since that time, Mexico's form has dropped dramatically.
Mexico has won just five of its 17 games in 2013, crashing out of the Gold Cup to Panama in the semifinal and failing to get out of the group stage of the Confederations Cup. Kalou believes that once the team finds the proper balance between veterans, players in their prime and talented youngsters, the team will be a force to be reckoned with.
"They have young quality players like [Giovani] Dos Santos and even Chicharito, who is their best player. But you have to remember that they are still young players," Kalou stated. "You need experienced players sometimes. Players with a lot of games experience to direct all of those young players."
He added, "So put them [veterans] on the team and I think they can be very dangerous at the World Cup."
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While Mexico might be on a recent downturn, Kalou is excited that his Ivory Coast team will be challenged by a quality squad.
The 29-year-old forward wants the Ivory Coast, which is currently ranked 13th by FIFA, to finally be considered a legitimate contender.
"I think we've had a generation that has been together for a long time. Most of the players on the team were at the last World Cup, so our main goal is to focus on winning something," said Kalou. "That's the only thing that's missing for the Ivory Coast.
"We have players at top clubs but as a national team, we've never won something together. I think that's the reason why we are willing to play against teams like Mexico because we are developing our experience against big teams.
"This prepares us to play these type of games at the World Cup."
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