Sizing up Mexico's upcoming opponents: Chile and Bolivia
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The crossbar that absorbed Mauricio Pinilla's fiercely driven shot from the edge of the penalty area in the last minute of extra time in the World Cup round of 16 match against Brazil is probably still shaking.
In hindsight, Brazil probably now wish the shot had gone in to save the hosts the embarrassment of that semifinal against Germany, but La Roja came out of the World Cup with the shot of confidence that comes from proving it belongs in the top category of international sides at present.
The South American nation now has its eyes squarely fixed on preparing for next summer's home Copa America and will see no reason why, at home, the side can't win the competition and overcome traditional regional giants Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, as well as the ever-improving Colombia.
That all means there are few more complicated outfits to face in the world right now than the one Mexico will come up against in Santa Clara, California, on Saturday.
The bulk of the Chile squad remains the same as at the World Cup, with the spine of Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez, Gary Medel, Charles Aranguiz and Claudio Bravo all called up.
The focus on the Copa America means this is no time for wholesale renewal, although young Swiss-Chilean Francisco Rodriguez will get his first opportunity with the squad and Fabian Orellana will likely partner Sanchez up front against Mexico, with Eduardo Vargas not living up to his promise since he moved to Europe.
But the biggest story since the World Cup for Chile has been that coach Jorge Sampaoli has stayed on.
The Argentine continued the work and philosophy of Marcelo Bielsa with La Roja and produced a side that was one of the best to watch in Brazil, with an emphasis on taking the game to the opposition and intense pressing all over the field. Attack proved the best form of defense, and the reward was passing one of the most difficult groups of the World Cup and almost knocking out the hosts.
It should all make for an exciting game on Saturday against Mexico between two technical teams that aren't entirely comfortable when their defenses are under pressure.
Key matchups to watch:
Guillermo Ochoa vs. Claudio Bravo: It is fair to say that Ochoa won more plaudits this summer, but Bravo was no mug in goal for Chile, either. In La Liga, Bravo is currently starting for Barcelona, while Ochoa lingers on Malaga's bench. It promises to be fascinating to see them on the same field. Bravo is where Ochoa wants to be.
Arturo Vidal vs. Hector Herrera: Both starred for their respective countries in the World Cup, and the managers of each nation will be looking to construct a side around their midfield dynamos. Vidal is already proven at the top level, and Herrera will want to make a statement.
Record: Played 24, 12 wins for Mexico, 10 for Chile, two ties
Bolivia (Commerce City, Colorado, Tuesday, Sept. 9)
Whereas the vast majority of Chile's squad has been brought in from outside of the domestic league, Saprissa's (Costa Rica) Carlos Saucedo is the only Bolivian who plays outside of the country's borders that has gotten a call-up from interim coach Xabier Azkargorta for the game against Mexico.
Six players in the squad are from Copa Libertadores sensation Bolivar, the team that knocked out Mexico's Club Leon and Argentine outfit Lanus earlier from the continental tournament. Three other players are from The Strongest, five from Oriente and two from Universitario.
Spaniard Azkargorta is highly experienced after spells coaching in Chile, Mexico, Japan and Spain and knows Bolivian soccer well. Indeed, Azkargorta is perhaps best known for qualifying the Bolivian national team for the 1994 World Cup.
He'll likely use a 5-4-1 formation and should be able to put together an organized Bolivia side, but it is unlikely to be enough.
Bolivia rarely travels well and hasn't won a game in 18 months. Aside from that, the absence of Cruzeiro striker Marcelo Martins Moreno is a significant loss.
Mexico -- even if it plays with a second-string side -- should coast to victory against a nation in a rebuilding process and still wavering on whether to employ Azkargorta once again on a permanent basis.
Key matchups to watch:
Saucedo vs. Luis Venegas: The Bolivian forward may be 34 years old and in the latter stages of his career, but he's still capable, and with Venegas likely making his first start for Mexico, Saucedo will look to test the Mexican defender.
Ronald Raldes vs. Erick "Cubo" Torres: Raldes is the leader of Bolivia's defense and will go up against a striker in Torres who is on form and desperate to make an impact to stay in the squad.
Record: Played 10, eight wins for Mexico, one loss and one draw
Tom Marshall has been based in Guadalajara since 2008 and has written about Mexican football ever since. Find him on Twitter @MexicoWorldCup.