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Do the U.S. and Mexico care about the Gold Cup anymore?

Gold Cup
 By Tom Marshall

Mexico will be happy with Copa America Centenario draw in Group C

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio labeled the Copa America Centenario "unique" and "extraordinary" on the red carpet ahead of Sunday's draw in New York. After learning El Tri's rivals in Group C, he'll also be excited by his team's prospects of making a deep run in the tournament.

Mexico will begin the tournament against Uruguay in Phoenix on June 5, and move on to face Jamaica in Pasadena four days later, before closing the group stage in Houston against Venezuela on June 13. "It is a group with an interesting mix," Osorio told TDN after the draw.

Considering the possible outcomes from this draw, Mexico should feel confident it can advance to the quarterfinal stage without too much trouble -- although things with Mexico have rarely gone to plan over recent years.

The coaches of Group C, from left, Jamaica's Schafer, Mexico's Osorio, Uruguay assistant Otero, and Venezuela's San Vicente.

Certainly, the opener against Oscar Tabarez's Uruguay will be extremely tough.

"Uruguay has been champion 15 times," Osorio said. "Its football has been characterized by the strength of its defenders and its elite forwards."

For a Mexico team that likes to take the game to the opposition, Uruguay possess the defensive and organizational antidote, as well as two forwards in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani that should need no introduction. It should be a game of cat and mouse, the type Mexico has struggled in of late.

"In his moment, Suarez is one of the three best attackers in world football," Osorio said. "His [attacking] teammates will be different with the national team [than Barcelona], but without doubt he is a reference point at world level."

Uruguay has conceded only twice -- in a 2-1 loss to Ecuador -- over the first four games of the tough South American qualifiers, and they've defeated both Colombia and Chile 3-0, as well as a solid 2-0 away win over Bolivia.

That said, Mexico will play as the home side in the University of Phoenix Stadium and El Tri's key players -- Hector Moreno, Javier Hernandez, Hector Herrera and Carlos Vela -- are hitting form early in 2016. There will be no fear of facing Uruguay, but a draw against a Colombia or Chile would've provided the type of open game that tends to suit Mexico and its players.

It will be fascinating to see what tinkerer Osorio plans for the match. Already in his first three games as Mexico coach, he has fielded three distinct starting formations. But it was these kinds of tactical, almost philosophical competitive games at major tournaments that the worldly and studious Colombian was brought in for.

Osorio is well aware of the challenges Mexico will face trying to beat Uruguay and Luis Suarez to top Group C.

In the second game, Mexico should have enough to get past the improving and dangerous counter-attacking unit that is Winfried Schafer's Jamaica, with the Gold Cup final last July highlighting Mexico's superiority. However, if Osorio's team takes the game in Southern California at anything less than 100 percent, there is a mountain of evidence to suggest that the Reggae Boyz can stage an upset.

"Jamaica is a quick, strong, athletic team," Osorio said. "A test for the defense-attack [transition]."

By the time Mexico plays Venezuela -- ranked No. 81 in the world and last in the CONMEBOL rankings by FIFA -- El Tri will hope to have qualification sewn up. Although it sounds optimistic, Osorio will no doubt consider giving a couple of players a rest if afforded the opportunity.

Mexico can't and won't complain about the group. While facing Copa America holders Chile, Costa Rica and Peru would've been the really tough group, Mexico plays in three cities in which there are huge Mexican communities that will make it the home side.

Finishing first in the group will be a significant challenge with Uruguay there, but the rewards are huge if Mexico can. El Tri would play in Santa Clara in the Bay Area should it top Group C, which would set up a stellar clash against Group D runner-up, likely to be Chile or Argentina. If Mexico finishes second, a trip to Foxborough on the East coast to face the Group D winner would ensue.

"Cautiously," Osorio said when asked about the potential quarterfinal rivals. "With respect to Argentina's years of history and Chile's recent history, Mexico is ready to compete on equal terms against anyone."

There is a lot of football to be played before any potential quarterfinal clash, and surely there will be some shocks along the way, but Mexico, on paper at least, looks well placed to enjoy a very good Copa America.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.


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