How will Mexico line up at the 2018 World Cup? And in the 2022 edition?
During the next several months, Mexico soccer fans will continually ask one glaring question: What will El Tri's starting XI look like at the 2018 World Cup?
Although it might be foolish to predict a starting XI from a tinkering manager like Juan Carlos Osorio, the Colombian has undoubtedly left plenty of hints and clues throughout World Cup qualifying. Forecasting Osorio's best XI, as ridiculous as it initially appears, isn't an impossible task.
But why stop at 2018? For the sake of intrigue and curiosity, let's also take this a step further by attempting to predict a possible XI for Mexico in the 2022 World Cup as well. That is, of course, assuming there are no complications on the way to the tournament.
What will Mexico's XI look like in the next two World Cups? Let's find out.
2018 World Cup
Despite the fact Jose de Jesus Corona has proven to be a worthy contender, he'll need to do something spectacular to steal the starting spot in net away from Guillermo Ochoa. Osorio might once again rotate his goalkeepers next summer, but Ochoa will likely earn the most minutes between the sticks.
In a potential four-man setup, Miguel Layun and Hector Moreno are easily crucial starters for Mexico's defense as the left-back and left center-back, respectively. Diego Reyes has also been a favorite of Osorio during qualifying, but a lack of a key role with Porto this season will mean that Nestor Araujo will probably replace him as the right center-back. At right-back, Carlos Salcedo is another name that Osorio trusts, but keep an eye on a fringe option like Edson Alvarez.
Looking toward the midfield, Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera are set to control the pace of El Tri, leaving one attack-minded place open to work alongside them. Marco Fabian could steal a spot here, or perhaps a youngster like Erick Gutierrez or Orbelin Pineda might as well, but the LA Galaxy's Jonathan dos Santos will ultimately be the expected pick.
Up top, two of three spots will be sure to be occupied by Javier Hernandez as the lone striker and Jesus Corona as one of the wingers. On paper, Carlos Vela should be the second winger, but it's tough to ignore the current rise and momentum from Hirving Lozano with PSV.
2022 World Cup
Now here's where the real fun begins.
After a much-anticipated breakout season in Europe, Raul Gudino will narrowly steal the starting spot from dominant players such as Gibran Lajud and Abraham Romero. Believe it or not, but 37-year-old Ochoa will also be in the running as a potential World Cup option.
In the middle of the defense, veteran Hector Moreno should exceed expectations and build a strong partnership with Cesar Montes. Jesus Gallardo will continue to strengthen his influence in El Tri as the starting left-back, while Alvarez will do the same on the right flank.
Looking higher up on the pitch, both Gutierrez and Pineda have the capabilities to control possession as Mexico's two well-rounded defensive midfielders. Right above the two should be "Tecatito" Corona. The 29-year-old, who will gradually replace his agile runs with more clever distribution, could eventually become a deadly central attacking midfielder.
On the right wing, Diego Lainez should be able to highlight his meteoric rise as one of El Tri's leaders in the front line. On the left, a 27-year-old "Chucky" Lozano will be Mexico's focal point in the attack.
Finally up front, many El Tri fans will inevitably question Raul Jimenez's spot as Mexico's lone striker. However, due to his work rate and a serious lack of younger backups, the 31-year-old will lead the attack in 2022.
Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.