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Tom Marshall: After summer of slumps, El Tri's focus shifts to regain regional status in Gold Cup

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Tom Marshall: After summer of slumps, El Tri's focus shifts to regain regional status in Gold Cup
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Tom Marshall: After summer of slumps, El Tri's focus shifts to regain regional status in Gold Cup

Mexico’s Under-20s might have given a good showing of themselves against Spain on Tuesday, but the team crashed out of a World Cup it was supposed to be a favorite for at the Round of 16 stage.

In the end, the record reads one win in four games in Turkey and adds another failure to a miserable summer for Mexico’s national teams, following poor Confederations Cup and World Cup qualifying performances.

The balloon surrounding the Mexican game following last summer’s Olympics appears to have burst and there could well be repercussions. But, for now, attention turns to Mexico’s B squad, which has been given the task of lifting the Gold Cup to end the summer with a least one bright spot for Mexico.

The latest version of El Tri hasn’t had the best buildup to the tournament. Oribe Peralta, Omar Bravo, Hugo Ayala, Cirilo Saucedo, Fernando Arce and David Cabrera have all pulled out of the squad for different reasons and it really is a makeshift mix of players who will be involved in the United States.

The team has not been firing on all cylinders so far, losing its second warm-up game on Saturday, 1-0 against Cruz Azul Hidalgo, with only Wednesday’s game against Queretaro to go before Sunday’s opener in the Rose Bowl against Panama.

Getting the hastily brought together team to click naturally has been problematic, with Salvador Reyes taking over the pre-tournament preparation and a wide variety of players selected - from veteran, tried and tested players such as Joel Huiqui and Rafa Marquez Lugo, to youngsters like Isaac Brizuela.

On the bright side for Mexico, the players involved know that it is not just a tournament trophy at stake, but also a chance to state a claim to the full national team.

Marco Fabian has the opportunity to make a statement for the first time at the full international level and prove to coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre that he can be the player to unlock tight defenses and link plays between midfield and attack.

At right back, Israel Jimenez and Miguel Layun know the spot is up for grabs and will be keen to prove they deserve a chance in World Cup qualification.

In the center of midfield, Leon’s Carlos Pena and Chivas’ Jorge Enriquez will be aiming to replace aging Gerardo Torrado by showing they are ready to step up with some authoritative displays.

The other player who could make an impression is America forward Raul Jimenez. Brought into the squad after Cabrera dropped out injured, Jimenez has been shuffled to the front of the line to play alongside Javier Hernandez.

However, his position is far from secure and a good Gold Cup would be a timely boost with Aldo de Nigris set to be out until right before September’s qualifying games against Honduras and the big away game against the United States.

Which brings us to the other subtext of this (and every other recent) Gold Cup, namely the Mexico-U.S. rivalry.

Ever since El Tri’s 2011 Gold Cup victory, a period of Mexican dominance was forecast, but this year’s showing has seen a new shift, with the United States adapting and responding to Jurgen Klinsmann and Mexico looking increasingly despondent under de la Torre.

The Stars and Stripes are sailing in first place and are virtually walking to Brazil 2014, while Mexico still has a lot of work to do and can’t afford to slip up.

The tables have turned between the regional giants and the Mexican soccer federation (FMF) will be looking to at least partly rectify that in the Gold Cup.

Follow TOM MARSHALL on Twitter or shoot him an email

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