WORLD CUP: Tactical tinkering unsettling Mexico players
MEXICO CITY: Mexicans can never be sure who will be playing for the national team under Juan Carlos Osorio.
A different lineup has been deployed by Osorio in all 46 games in charge and now players are starting to question the tactical tinkering going into the World Cup.
"It's time to stop with the experiments," Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa said. "We have to focus on how we play as a team."
Osorio, who replaced fan favorite Miguel Herrera in 2015, isn't budging. The Colombian has no plans to change his strategy because it carried Mexico to the World Cup as the top-placed team in CONCACAF qualifying for the first time in two decades.
But changing formations depending on the opponent hasn't fared well in all competitions.
"A lot of people said that the past few years have been good, but I'm not so sure about that," Manuel Lapuente, who coached Mexico at the 1998 World Cup, told The Associated Press. "We were a failure in the Copa America Centenario. We failed at the Gold Cup and in the Confederations Cup. We did well in the qualifiers, but, guess what? We are not going to play against that kind of rival in Russia."
The Mexicans were consigned to their worst-ever loss in the 2016 Copa America Centenario quarterfinals, trounced 7-0 by Chile. In a pair of semifinals last year they were beaten 4-1 by Germany in the Confederations Cup and lost 1-0 to Jamaica in the Gold Cup.
Progress for Mexico at the World Cup would be reaching the quarterfinals after failing to advance from the round of 16 at six successive editions. Only when the Mexicans hosted the World Cup did they make the last eight — in 1970 and 1986.
Here's a closer look at the Mexico team:
Osorio, a former conditioning coach at Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, won four league titles in Colombia and was managing Sao Paulo before taking over his first job as a national coach with Mexico in 2015.
Osorio's success in Colombia, where he won the championship with Once Caldas and three times with Atletico Nacional, was based on the same tactical fluidity that he brought to Mexico.
His 46 games with Mexico have seen 30 wins, nine draws and seven losses.
Guillermo Ochoa, who has made 93 appearances since his international debut in 2005, is renowned in Mexico for an outstanding save from Neymar's header at the 2014 World Cup.
The 32 year-old "Memo," who plays for Belgian club Standard Liege, will be making the World Cup trip but he might not be guaranteed to start every game. Osorio is considering using either Jesus Corona or Alfredo Talavera in the final Group F game against Sweden because Ochoa can struggle dealing with crosses.
The defense is probably the weakest link on the team.
Hector Moreno, who plays for Real Sociedad after a brief stint with Roma, is the strongest component of the back line and is nursing an injury that has kept him out of the last two friendly matches.
Osorio likes to play with three center backs, but only Moreno — when healthy — is a guaranteed starter. The other one was Nestor Araujo, who did not make the team after sustaining a knee injury in a friendly against Croatia in March. Carlos Salcedo injured his collarbone in the same match and is hoping to be fit for Russia.
Hugo Ayala and Edson Alvarez could take over but all lack international experience.
Hirving Lozano, who has scored 16 goals for PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch league, should start on the left wing. Carlos Vela, who joined Los Angeles FC from Real Sociedad last year, currently has the edge to start on the other flank rather than Porto midfielder Jesus Corona.
Andres Guardado is another player who is injured and his status is uncertain. If Guardado can't play, Erick Gutierrez will be called from the reserve squad to take over alongside Hector Herrera.
Gutierrez did not make the final roster but is traveling and training with Mexico in case Guardado can't play.
Diego Reyes, a Herrera teammate who plays in the midfield, is also injured, allowing veteran Rafael Marquez to make the team despite being retired at 39 years old.
If Marquez, as expected with all the injuries, plays in his fifth World Cup, he will join Antonio Carvajal and Lottar Matthaeus as the only players in history to play at five World Cups. Former Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon made the roster five times, but only played in four.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez remains the main striker heading into the tournament, but Raul Jimenez is having a strong season with Benfica.
Oribe Peralta, who led Mexico to the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, is the third striker.
Osorio likes to use a formation with a withdrawn striker, a position where Giovani Dos Santos and Marco Fabian are contesting the starting position.
Mexico opens Group F against World Cup champion Germany on Sunday in Moscow, where it has its tournament base. The team will then head to Rostov-on-Don to face South Korea on June 23, followed by a match against Sweden in Yekaterinburg on June 27.
Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege), Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)
Defenders: Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt), Diego Reyes (Porto), Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad), Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Edson Alvarez (America), Jesus Gallardo (Pumas), Miguel Layun (Sevilla)
Midfielders: Rafael Marquez (Atlas), Hector Herrera (Porto), Jonathan Dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Andres Guardado (Betis), Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt), Giovani Dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
Forwards: Javier Hernandez (West Ham), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Oribe Peralta (America), Jesús Corona (Porto), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC), Javier Aquino (Tigres), Hirving Lozano (PSV Eindhoven)