A look at the standings hardly suggests Mexico are destined to fail in their bid to qualify for a sixth successive World Cup finals. Unbeaten in six matches of CONCACAF’s Fourth Round programme, they finished Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Costa Rica joint top of the table with eight points, having conceded only two goals.
No doubt those are the numbers Jose Manuel de la Torre will be reminding his bosses of during conversations with the Mexico Football Federation between now and the start of the Confederations Cup. For while the data can be spun to make him look good, it can also be used to cast a shadow over the last few months of his time as national team manager.
So he has been a success, and yet he’s a failure. They call it The Hex for a reason.
Since the start of the calendar year, Mexico—the reigning Olympic and Gold Cup champions—have suddenly stopped scoring goals, finding the back of the net only six times in nine matches. Four of them came from Javier Hernandez, but when the Manchester United striker has a rare off night, as he did against Costa Rica, Mexico have lacked even the hint of a cutting edge in attack.
So predictable have El Tri become that their opponents have learned to anticipate their habits.
Almost everything they create going forward passes through either Andres Guardado or Pablo Barrera, the two wingers. And when one or both suddenly find the route to goal cut off, they look for an outlet that isn’t there, often conceding possession.
This was the pattern that so irritated the Mexico fans at Estadio Azteca on Tuesday that they screamed for de la Torre to be sacked following the match.
Late in the second half, Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz was showered in debris as he attempted to take a corner kick.
But while the behaviour of the home support was disgraceful and inexcusable, it also had nothing to do with their Central American rivals. Perhaps they even figured that by wasting time and helping force a draw they could somehow speed up the process of de la Torre’s exit, not that it’s likely to come until after the Confederations Cup, if it does at all.
Between now and the resumption of World Cup qualifying in September, de la Torre and his players will no doubt go through several rounds of self-examination as they look to turn this thing around.
The manager, for his part, will likely throw a lifeline to out-of-favour striker Carlos Vela, and some of the U-23 players who starred at the Olympics might be given a chance in the senior side as well.
The players, meanwhile, will have to accept the fact that the rest of the qualification campaign will see them put under immense pressure, especially as they have yet to travel to both the United States and Costa Rica.
The numbers say Mexico should make it to Brazil in 12 months' time. At least they say it now.
But if the water continues to leak in and the unthinkable happens, it just might be Tuesday’s scoreless, spineless draw that sunk them.