Mexico coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre talked on Sunday about the importance of winning ugly, picking up points and getting El Tri over the line and qualified for Brazil 2014.
El Tri produced the ugly soccer against Costa Rica on Tuesday, but failed to win or even score in the Estadio Azteca. That makes it three consecutive 0-0 draws this year in World Cup qualifying inside the massive stadium. It makes Mexico’s qualification for Brazil 2014 anything but secure and De la Torre’s job seriously under-threat for the first time.
Chants of “Chepo out” bellowed down from the steep bleachers towards the end and it isn’t difficult to see why. Fans of other CONCACAF nations may mock the Mexican public’s vocal and possibly hasty criticism of Chepo, but it comes in a context of El Tri winning Olympic gold and enjoying unprecedented success at youth level. This was supposed to be the qualifying campaign to cement Mexico as the undisputed dominant force in the region.
Instead, it has turned into the traditional dogfight involving the United States and Central American nations, none of which are in the top 25 of the FIFA rankings.
“There are 12 points left, there are still a lot of games,” De la Torre told Mexican TV company Televisa after Tuesday’s game.
While it is almost unthinkable that Mexico won’t be at Brazil 2014, suddenly games against Honduras (h), USA (a), Panama (h) and Costa Rica (a) don’t look so tempting with the pressure right on. And those statements from Chepo about how many games are left are starting to wear thin.
Yes, it is difficult against decent CONCACAF teams that come to defend and hope for goals on the counterattack. It is also true Mexico is more naturally adept playing that way itself, when there is more space in the final third.
But De la Torre has been unable to adjust tactically. El Tri has scored just three first half goals in its last 15 matches. That statistic is not a coincidence; the team has lacked ambition and been too cautious early on. Chepo’s team has scored in just four of its eight matches in 2013. Of the six goals this year, four have come from Javier Hernandez, one was a penalty and the other a header from Aldo de Nigris.
Teams are working out how to play against Mexico and Chepo has failed to come up with a plan B, something to make the opposition change its gameplan and put it on the back foot.
“Costa Rica closed spaces in behind and made it very complicated,” was De la Torre’s assessment in his post-game press conference
Jamaica and the United States did the same and at international level, where the very nature of the competition is to find quick solutions to such problems, the lack of an answer from Chepo doesn’t bode well.
To be fair, it isn’t his fault that quality players have been so poor. The sloppy passes, poor crosses and bad decision making are something the players have to own up to.
But the obvious lack of confidence running through El Tri against Costa Rica is Chepo’s concern and he will need to deal with that and get the squad back playing for him.
At the moment, El Tri seems too regimented. Solidity is taking the place of flair and risk-taking.
Despite that, the former Toluca and Chivas coach’s job is likely safe, for now. The Mexican soccer federation (FMF) has previously said it will back him throughout the qualifying campaign and with the Mexico squad flying to Brazil for the Confederations Cup right after Tuesday’s game, it would appear logistically improbable to fire the coach before Sunday’s opener against Italy in the Maracana.
And there is a counter argument to the negativity surrounding De la Torre. The basis of it is that Chepo is in the middle of a process and part of that is making Mexico an extremely difficult side to beat. From that perspective, De la Torre is doing a fine job, with El Tri losing just three of 37 games and only conceding two goals in its last five games.
But Mexico fans are running out of patience and a really poor Confederations Cup could spell the end for Chepo, especially if there are no signs that confidence has been at least partially restored.
Like we’ve seen time and time again with Mexico, if that World Cup qualification comes under serious threat, the FMF will act.