Their Colombian supremo Juan Carlos Osorio – a former conditioning coach at Manchester City before the Abu Dhabi takeover – revels in uncertainty, as he’s used 44 different lineups, and counting, across his tenure.
Results have been just as unpredictable.
A superb first-place finish in CONCACAF qualifying was earned for the first time since 1998.
Yet this followed June 2016’s 7-0 humbling by eventual champions Chile in the Copa America Centenario, their worst-ever result in nine entries. Prior to this, El Tri had won nine and drawn one of Osorio’s games in charge – conceding just twice.
In 2017, semi-final defeats were also registered to teams of contrasting ability. Winners Germany ended hopes with a 4-1 triumph in the Confederations Cup, while a frustrating 1-0 reversal was recorded against minnows Jamaica in the Gold Cup.
This contrasts the startling predictability of Mexico on the game’s grandest stage. Since 1994, they have suffered roundof-16 exits in each tournament.
Only when they hosted the tournament in 1970 and 1986 did they make the quarter-finals. And Russia is a long way from home.
This side is top heavy in attacking talent. Despite a middling debut campaign at West Ham, all-time top scorer Javier Hernandez should see off the threat of Benfica target man Raul Jimenez.
On the wings, the prolific Hirving Lozano has the ability to be a breakout star after his stellar exploits at PSV. With a tactical focus on maintaining position, Porto captain Hector Herrera is key in the middle.
But their soft centre is a worry.
Real Sociedad’s Hector Moreno is the only guaranteed starter in a three-man defence and 39-year-old ex-Barcelona icon Rafael Marquez has been recalled to anchor the midfield for a reason.
Standard Liege goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s weakness against crosses accentuates this problem.
Group F begins with a daunting opener against Germany, but after that come kinder ties against South Korea and Sweden.
The true face of Osorio and his charges is about to be learned.
At 29-years old, ‘Chicharito’ already possesses more international goals than Mexico legends such as Hugo Sanchez and Luis Hernandez.
But his talents were not appreciated by David Moyes at West Ham, meaning he comes in undercooked. Will need to be at his best for El Tri to succeed
Juan Carlos Osorio
Tactical fluidity is the principle that underpins Osorio’s approach. The 56-year-old constantly switches personnel, keeping both his opponents and squad on their toes.
Results have largely been impressive, but stalwarts such as Ochoa are demanding consistency. Will he grant it?
The surprise recall for the 39-year-old veteran saw him replace Andres Guardardo as skipper.
His selection means the ex-Monaco and Barcelona defender will become just the third-ever player in history – joining Germany’s Lothar Matthaus and fellow Mexican Antonio Carbajal – to appear in five World Cups.
Scouts at Europe’s biggest clubs will be eagerly studying how the inverted left winger gets on this summer. A fantastic debut campaign for the 22-year-old at PSV concluded with 19 goals plundered from 33 run-outs.
More of the same and a huge move should beckon.
KEY FACTS AND STATS
– Six-consecutive eliminations in the round of 16 at World Cups.
– Minus 35 combined goal difference for Mexico across their 15 world cup entries.
– 50-per-cent fewer goals scored by Chicharito in 2018 qualifying (three) compared to 2014 (six).
77 DEF 79 MID 81 ATT
World Cups competed at
16 (First in 1930)
World Cup record
P53, W14, D14, L25
Quarter-finals (1970 & 1986)
P16, W11, D4, L1
Goalkeepers: Jose de Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege)
Defenders: Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt), Diego Reyes (Porto), Miguel Layun (Sevilla), Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad), Edson Alvarz (America), Jesus Gallardo (Monterrrey)
Midfielders: Rafael Marquez (Atlas), Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy) Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Hector Herrera (Porto), Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Javier Aquino (Tigres)
Forwards: Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Carlos Vela (LAFC), Javier Hernandez (West Ham United), Jesus Manuel Corona (Porto) Oribe Peralta (America), Hirving Lozano (PSV Eindhoven)
Have talent in the ranks to break their attachment to the round of 16. But Osorio’s erratic management and results cause serious question marks.
It has been more than a decade since the Green Falcons last spread their wings on the global stage.
This situation would have seemed unfathomable between 1994-2006, when World Cups were made as a matter of course thanks to the legendary endeavours of forward Sami Al Jaber, goalkeeper Mohamed Al Deayea and Co. But malfunction was then to ravage the Middle East’s football powerhouse.
That is before 2015’s revelatory appointment of Bert van Marwijk.
The man who led his native Netherlands to defeat in the final of the 2010 event engineered a stunning Road to Russia. Their swashbuckling path was secured in fitting fashion when electric Al Ittihad winger Fahad Al Muwallad rocketed in a stunning winner against Japan to nudge Australia out of the automatic berths.
Then the discord and institutional breakdowns reappeared.
A new contract for the visionary Van Marwijk was ripped up in September. Immediate replacement Edgardo Bauza was poached from the UAE in the aftermath of their failure to gain entrance – and then swiftly dismissed on November 22 after five unsatisfactory matches.
Ex-Chile head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi is now the man at the helm. His challenge to navigate a generous Group A is a complex one.
A brainwave to send the nation’s brightest talents on loan to Spain in January then saw key attackers Al Muwallad, Yahya Al Shehri and Salem Al Dawsari barely make any matchday squads. Elsewhere, attempts have been made to identify support for prolific, but recently misfiring, Al Nassr striker Mohammad Al Sahlawi.
Supreme Al Hilal midfielder Nawaf Al Abed misses the tournament after being unable to fully recover from groin surgery, while club-mate Salman Al Faraj has only recently recovered from long-term injury. All the players above, plus the likes of Al Ahli Jeddah veteran Taisir Al Jassim and exciting Hilal full-back Yasser Al Shahrani, possess talent to grace a global stage.
But the recent managerial merry-go-round and La Liga experiment have only served to make their job in Russia more difficult, following the enviable collective identity forged by Van Marwijk.
Dreams of matching 1994’s run to the round of 16 appear distant.
Mohammad Al Sahlawi
If the Saudis are to get the goals needed to make a second-ever knockouts appearance, Al Sahlawi, 30, is their solitary source.
A tally of more than 25 international strikes speak of his quality. The only worry is fact this lethality has gone missing, of late, on the international stage.
Juan Antonio Pizzi
Pizzi took the reins from fellow Argentinian Bauza last November, but has struggled for consistency since. In his previous post with Chile, victory in the 2016 Copa America did not inspire a berth at the World Cup.
Will hope to avoid a repeat of Carlos Alberto Parreira’s mid-event sacking in 1998.
With more than 130 international caps earned, Hawsawi has experience in bundles. Yet this will be the ex-Anderlecht player’s first World Cup and there are fears at 34-years old he is creaking.
Won’t relish facing Uruguay’s fearsome attack of Luis Suarez, Edinson Canvani etc.
Fahad Al Muwallad
Al Muwallad, 23, has packed a lot into his promising career.
Since debuting for Ittihad aged just 16, he’s gone on to terrorise opposition full-backs across Asia. The pocket-sized winger must hope he’s not collected too much dust on the sidelines at Levante during his half-season loan.
KEY FACTS AND STATS
– Three managers since they qualified to World Cup 2018 – Van Marwijk, Pizzi and Bauza.
– It’s 12 years since Saudi Arabia last appeared at a World Cup, where they lost all three group games in Germany.
– 16 goals scored by striker Al Sahlawi in qualifying, joint best with UAE’s Ahmed Khalil and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski.
71 DEF 72 MID 71 ATT
World Cups competed at
Five (First in 1994)
World Cup record
P13, W2, D2, L9
Round of 16 (1994)
P18, W12, D3, L3
Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al Owais (Al Ahli Jeddah), Yasser Al Mosailem (Al Ahli Jeddah), Abdullah Al Mayouf (Al Hilal)
Defenders: Mansoor Al Harbi (Al Ahli Jeddah), Yasser Al Shahrani, Mohammed Al Breik (both Al HIlal), Motaz Hawsawi (Al Ahli Jeddah), Osama Hawsawi (Al Hilal), Omar Hawsawi (Al Nassr), Ali Al Bulaihi (Al Hilal)
Midfielders: Abdullah Al Khaibari (Al Shabab Riyadh), Abdulmalek Al Khaibri (Al Hilal), Abdullah Otayf (Al Hilal), Taisir Al Jassim (Al Ahli Jeddah), Housain Al Mogahwi (Al Ahli Jeddah), Salman Al Faraj, Mohamed Kanno (both Al Hilal), Hattan Bahebri (Al Shabab Riyadh), Salem Al Dawsari (Al Hilal), Yahya Al Shehri (Al Nassr), Fahad Al Muwallad (Al Ittihad)
Forwards: Mohammad Al Sahlawi (Al Nassr), Muhannad Assiri (Al Ahli Jeddah)
A once-promising tournament has been made tougher since the break-up with Van Marwijk. Will do well to secure a runners-up spot.
Rashford opened the scoring with a blistering strike in the final pre-tournament friendly on Thursday, giving manager Gareth Southgate a timely reminder of his skills with a bright, attacking display.
Southgate must now consider whether the Manchester United forward has done enough to earn a starting shirt against Tunisia on June 18 but would need to rejig his system or drop Raheem Sterling to make room.
“Of course he has given Gareth Southgate something to think about, but if he plays Rashford as an attacking player does that mean Raheem doesn’t play?” Barnes told Press Association Sport.
“Raheem will start, for me, and I think Gareth likes Jesse Lingard too. Is Rashford on form? One goal in one game isn’t form because he hasn’t been doing that all season.
“Form isn’t one game before the World Cup, it’s achieved over a consistent period of time.
“But the good thing is he’s given you a problem, you know coming off the bench he give you something. It’s pleasing to know you can rely on him but I don’t believe he will necessarily start.”
Barnes, who is a Lidl grassroots ambassador, has been impressed by the efforts England have made to connect with fans, with squad members speaking openly and honestly in the media and a handful of players stopping late in the evening at Elland Road to sign shirts and pose for pictures with fans.
He also believes they will reach the quarter-finals in Russia and have a chance to do even better.
“They’ve made a conscious effort to get the fans on their side, there’s harmony,” he said.
“Stopping and signing autographs, taking selfies – that’s not a very modern Premier League thing to do. Players these days can be a little detached from their communities but they’ve clearly made an effort to change that.
“Going to this World Cup I think they can beat anyone but a feature of this young, inexperienced team is that they are going to be inconsistent.
“At times they will be brilliant and at times they’ll be okay. I expect quarter-finals. From there they’d have to put together three very good performances against the likes of Germany, Spain, Brazil.
“Of course they can win it but I won’t put any pressure on them. At the Euros in two years or the next World Cup there’ll be more demands.”
Provided by Press Association Sport