The final game of Group B in the North, Central America and Caribbean World Cup Qualifier will pit Mexico against El Salvador. While Mexico is already advancing onto the hexagonal stage, El Salvador still has a slimmer of hope of advancing.
Several players will play a key role in the contest scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.
Although Mexico is 5-0-0 in the group stage, and 17-4-3 overall under manager Jose Manuel de la Torre, there were still questions up front for the squad.
Since 2010, Javier Hernandez has served as the long-standing striker for El Tri, scoring 27 goals in 42 appearances.
However, after missing out on the 2012 Summer Olympics in London—at his club Manchester United’s request—Hernandez has failed to make much of a splash this season in the Premier League.
In seven appearances, Hernandez has only netted one goal. Much of that is largely in part to Manchester United’s recent signing of heralded striker Robin Van Persie.
Pair that with the sensational run of form that fellow Mexican international Oribe Peralta has been on and de la Torre now faces a conundrum.
Peralta started 2012 with an impressive Clausura campaign with Santos. The 24-year-old netted 15 goals in 21 appearances, while leading Santos to the league championship. His play earned him the Liga MX MVP honors.
Peralta then translated his success onto the national stage, as he led Mexico to Olympic gold in the 2012 summer games. Peralta scored four goals in six games, including a brace in the team’s 2-1 triumph over Brazil in the gold medal match.
Who will win?
This all led to speculation that de la Torre might opt to bench Hernandez in favor of Peralta prior to their Sept. 11 contest with Costa Rica.
Instead, de la Torre chose to switch from his usual 4-2-3-1 lineup to a 4-2-2-2 lineup that included both strikers.
El Tri would win 1-0—with Hernandez netting the only goal—but it would be considered the weakest showing of their qualifying efforts.
Although Hernandez scored, the striking pair seemed to struggle together. Whether it was passing or taking of lousy shots, the two never really seemed to get in sync.
Maybe utilizing both strikers wasn’t the best decision. Maybe the best course of action was to choose one over the other.
Whatever the case, de la Torre decided to give the duo one more go in Mexico’s Oct. 12 contest with Group B cellar-dweller Guyana.
While El Tri started out rather sluggish, squandering countless opportunities—Hernandez missed a penalty in the fourth minute—Andres Guardado finally found the back of the net in the 77th minute.
Mexico would tally four more in the next eight minutes on their way to a 5-0 victory.
The second goal would put a rest to the doubts of the success of the striker pairing, as Hernandez set up Peralta beautifully for his first strike of group play. Hernandez would head in a goal of his own in the 84th minute.
While the two played well together in the fixture, it also had to be noted that it was against a Guyana team that is 0-1-4 in the group.
With El Tri having nothing to lose against El Salvador, it will instead be used as another chance to see if the Hernandez-Peralta experiment can come to fruition.
If it does, they would come together as one of the most dynamic attacking duos in Mexican history.
On the other side, El Salvador is struggling to stay alive in this competition. So much so that even a victory on Tuesday doesn’t guarantee that they will advance.
At 1-2-2, El Salvador is currently two points behind Costa Rica and would need both a victory against Mexico and a Costa Rica loss to Guyana.
Alone each task’s success would seem to be a long shot. But to get both seems downright inconceivable.
However, the best El Salvador can do is to try and pull off the upset and hope that the cards fall in their favor.
Midfielder Osael Romero will be an integral part in their chances of doing just that.
Romero has netted three times in El Salvador’s five qualifying matchups. He has been one of the lone bright spots for the team so far. He will have to be at his best if El Salvador has any chance of coming out victorious.
While his scoring ability is key, it will be even more pivotal for him to get others going, like striker Rafael Burgos.
If Romero can succeed, he just might give El Salvador hope of making an improbable run to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Expect both teams to come out firing on Tuesday night.