Mexico national team: Five New Year's resolutions for El Tri in 2019
It was far from an exciting year for the Mexican men's national team in 2018. Other than a historic 1-0 victory over Germany in the World Cup, it's difficult to find real signs of progress for El Tri. With 2019 rolling around, now appears to be a good time to look ahead to the potential progress and improvements that could be made.
Here are five New Year's resolutions for the national team.
1. Transition in young talent
The good news for fans of Mexico is that it's easy to create a long list of budding talents that can soon make an impact on the field.
Edson Alvarez, Hirving Lozano and Erick Gutierrez are just a few of the more prominent young names that have already started to gain recognition for Mexico. Looking further down the list, Jesus Angulo, Diego Lainez, Roberto Alvarado and Alexis Vega appear next in line for more call-ups and appearances.
With an eye toward 2022, it's imperative for Mexico to start working in more options. When looking at the current crop of national-team players, it's abundantly clear that a strong majority of El Tri's best will be on the wrong side of 30 once the next World Cup kicks off. What this then means is that there needs to a gradual transition toward the next generation. If not, Mexico might have to rely on a 36-year-old Andres Guardado and a 34-year-old Javier Hernandez in Qatar ...
2. Find a new identity under Gerardo "Tata" Martino
When watching Mexico under interim manager Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti, there was no real drive, identity or character from the side that stumbled to five losses in the final six games of the year. Following the uneventful end to the World Cup and the exit of former manager Juan Carlos Osorio, Ferretti did little to reignite any imagination or excitement in the latter half of 2018.
That's where Martino is (reportedly) going to step in. Desperate for some sort of footballing identity, Mexico can once again become an aggressively attack-minded side that isn't afraid to press high up the field. With plenty of matches set in the near future against CONCACAF opponents, Mexico and Martino will regularly go up against minnows that won't be afraid to park the bus.
In theory, this should be easy against weaker opponents, but that could have also recently been said before El Tri's near-disastrous 2014 World Cup qualifying run and also the dismal semifinal finish in the 2017 Gold Cup.
3. Send more players abroad to Europe
The process of sending a Mexican player to Europe is a complicated one. Due to an overvaluation of Liga MX prospects and high wages at home, Mexican talent sometimes never takes or gets the opportunity to sign for a European club.
Despite these hurdles, it's still in the best interest of the national team to have more players plying their trade for bigger squads abroad. Although it's still possible to have success for club and country if you stay in Liga MX -- look at Oribe Peralta and Alfredo Talavera, for example -- there's no way of replicating the experience of a UEFA Champions League match or a tightly contested battle in the English Premier League.
With all the young talent coming through the ranks, the big question is if the other variable factors can come together to help those players make a move to Europe happen.
4. Qualify for the 2020 CONCACAF Nations League final four
Here's a quick rundown on how the CONCACAF Nations League will work. After the qualifying stage for the tournament is finished in early 2019, Mexico will run through the group stage of the competition during matches in September, October and November.
Regardless of who El Tri is set to face off against in League A, a place at the very top of the respective group will be expected for the highest FIFA-ranked side in the CONCACAF region. If they clinch first in the group, Mexico would then qualify for the 2020 CONCACAF Nations League Final Championship, which kicks off with a place in the semifinal round of the competition.
Anything less than a place in the final in 2020 would unquestionably be seen as a failure for all involved.
5. Win the 2019 Gold Cup
Before Martino and Mexico begin their run in the Nations League, they'll first have an opportunity to flex their muscles during the 2019 Gold Cup. After the disappointment in the 2017 edition of the tournament, El Tri fans and media will expect the country's best to bounce back and win the title.
Qualifying for the next edition of the Confederations Cup, which could be gained through championships in the next two editions of the Gold Cup or a potential 2019 CONCACAF Cup title, is still in the cards as well.
Despite the fact that the future of the 2021 Confederations Cup is up in the air, a place within the next tournament is a highly valuable experience for any Mexican national-team player and a perfect warm-up for the World Cup.
Winning the 2019 Gold Cup will not only represent a big step toward that goal, but will also be an ideal start to the tenure of Martino.