Time for Mexico to make history as Osorio brings El Tri new hope

Mexico came into the World Cup with uncertainty. They now have renewed confidence.

Time for Mexico to make history as Osorio brings El Tri new hope
Mexico are World Cup dark horses heading into the last 16 | Photo: Getty Images, David Ramos - FIFA.

As the World Cup got underway Mexico were rather an unknown quantity in Russia.

Juan Carlos Osorio didn’t know what his best team was. Whilst the fans were keen to show their displeasure towards a coach who had shown little in the way of inspiring a nation so passionate about their football.

But in amongst those travelling Mexican’s and underneath the sombrero’s, a new-found faith has been discovered.

The fans may not have liked Osorio before, but they certainly will now. For Mexico have more than proved their worth at this World Cup, and beating the World Champions proves that.

In a group where it seemed a side would be battling behind Germany for second place, Mexico were the group’s best team for two games and have been one of the most eye-catching sides at the tournament.

They eventually finished second in the group, but a last 16 place was what they deserved. Against Brazil, they have the opportunity of going beyond that stage of a World Cup outside of their own country for the first time in their history.

They reached quarter-finals in 1970 and 1986 but they are so often the side who go beyond the group stages and do little else.

However, Osorio has made this Mexico team a threat to be reckoned with. More importantly, he has instilled belief and hope, and it might just be that that gets them over the line against Brazil.

A fresh hope

Mexico hasn't advanced beyond the last 16 at the last six World Cups. It's a frustrating fate for CONCACAF's most consistent side and a team who tend to offer little hope to their people.

Under previous manager Miguel Herrera, a man who brought so much joy to the touchline in Brazil four years ago, they won the Gold Cup in 2015. However, two days after the triumph he was sacked. An alleged altercation with a reporter being the reason for his downfall.

Mexican football needed a new man to take them on and they found that in the form of the more reserved but equally as passionate, Osorio. The Colombian has a 64% win ratio with El Tri. 12 percent better than Herrera had. He has taken them on an added level, got them playing better football and given his players more confidence.

If you needed any indication of that belief, before the tournament even got underway, Mexico's record goal scorer Javier Hernández posed the question of why his nation couldn't go all the way. "Look at Greece, look at Leicester. Tell me why not?"

Sport is incredible, and when an underdog does something out of the ordinary it is a joy to behold.

Indeed the 2018 World Cup could be the year where David triumphs over Goliath. Germany, Argentina and Portugal are already out. Who's to say Mexico won't upset Brazil?

Exciting football

Against Germany and when they took on South Korea in the group stages, Mexico were brilliant. They were quick on the counter and rigid in defence - displaying strong characteristics to the rest of the world.

In Hirving Lozano they have a player who could inspire a generation of football in Mexico. He has burst on to the world stage in Russia, ushering plenty of suitors into thinking about signing him from PSV. He scored a brilliantly well-taken goal against Germany - one that came from a first half of scintillating attacking football from El Tri.

It was a breath of fresh air for Mexico supporters who wondered before the tournament whether they would be able to score goals. They have proven they can, and they scored two more against South Korea.

Carlos Vela, a man who is back after a period in the international wilderness, notched from the spot, and the lively Hernández scored his 50th for his country.

It is a forward line which has great potency and on their day, as they showed against Germany, have great potential. Miguel Layún has been a consistent threat on the right flank, showing steely nature for a player who usually plays in a more defensive role.

But for all the talk of Lozano and what he is bringing to Mexican football, it is hard to forget the more experienced heads in the side.

Andrés Guardado, a man with 150 caps has had a solid World Cup alongside Porto's Héctor Herrera whilst Guillermo Ochoa who is a man possessed for Mexico has again been excellent between the sticks. He may not perform well for club, but he certainly does for his country.  

Brazil awaits

For everything good about this Mexican side you feel they have the ability to implode and their performance against Sweden must have brought a familiar feeling to their adoring public of so close yet so far.

For if South Korea hadn't done them a favour they would have been staring down the barrel of a World Cup exit despite being on six points.

Against Sweden they were undone by a team far more physical than them, and that is where the issue lies.

The Mexican side, despite looking strong against Germany, are full of diminutive figures. Playing against Brazil may well suit them. Both teams like to play in an expressive manner and an open game will benefit Mexico.

The match could go either way. Mexico will either put in a performance like they did against Germany and scrape through. Or, they will fold as they did against Sweden. There are very much two sides to this Mexico team and it's tough to predict just which side of the coin will turn up.

Is there a legacy to be had?

Even if they do go out, this could be the start of a World Cup legacy for Mexico. There is a future beyond this group of players.

In 2026, they will co-host the tournament alongside CONCACAF rivals USA and Canada. By then, a host of the old guard will have gone. Lozano will be in his prime, and youngsters like Edson Álvarez, who has played two matches in Russia, and Erick Gutiérrez who is Mexico's reserve for the tournament will likely be key figures.

Rafael Márquez has been one of the mainstays in the Mexico team but he, of course, will be gone by then. Despite that, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him manage his country in eight years time.

He played at a joint record fifth World Cup finals in Russia and it would be hard to argue against this being the best Mexico side he's played in.

But to justify that, a quarter-final birth and a place in history for the first time in 32 years needs to happen.

Can they do it? Time will tell, but their journey has been one of the most entertaining of the 2018 World Cup.