Neither Mexico or Canada could have had a much more disappointing start to this year's Gold Cup.
Canada managed to lose to upstarts Martinique, 1-0—on a 92nd-minute goal, nonetheless—in a game that won't inspire much confidence in the future of this Canadian team.
Meanwhile, Mexico's recent disappointments in international tournaments continued, as El Tri lost to Panama, 2-1. For a country that has won the past two tournaments and never lost an opening game at the Gold Cup, it was a horrid start.
Now, these countries will face off in a vital Group A clash. What are the keys to the game? What must each team do to earn a vital three points?
Let's break it down.
Just Park the Bus, Canada
Look, everyone knows that Mexico is clearly the superior side and is going to control possession and create more chances. That's obvious enough. But when you consider that Martinique—yes, the same Martinique that isn't even a member of FIFA—took 27 shots against Canada, well, it's easy to envision this one getting out of hand quickly.
Canada is undergoing a youth movement in the national ranks, namely on defense, so the back four will need all the support they can get. Canada should have no illusions about what they can accomplish in this game—they must sink back, keep 10 men behind the ball and keep Mexico off the board.
If they can strike on the counter-attack, great. But shutting out Mexico and earning a scoreless draw—then looking to pull off the upset against Panama—is probably the only realistic route to the knockout stage for Canada.
It may be boring, but Canada needs to jam the defensive third with bodies and frustrate Mexico's attackers.
Time to Make Some Tactical Adjustments, Mexico
Let's call a spade a spade—has anyone ever actually called a spade a diamond, club, heart or tiny shovel, because it really isn't all that confusing, folks—and declare that the 4-3-3 didn't work against Panama.
Marco Fabian was very good on the left wing, but Raul Jimenez didn't seem suited to play out wide to the right and should be utilized centrally. The result was Rafa Marquez Lugo often looking pretty lonely up top as the lone forward, and Jimenez committing a pretty awful foul that led to a Panama penalty kick.
If Mexico insists on running the 4-3-3 again, Jimenez should be pushed back to the middle. Otherwise, he should be utilized in a striking pair. Keeping him out wide is wasting his talents.
Attack Israel Jimenez, Canada
Mexico's weak link against Panama was right-back Israel Jimenez, as Panama continued to have success attacking on that side.
While part of that may have been due to Raul Jimenez failing to offer much help defensively on that side, playing out of position, Israel Jimenez is the defender Canada should look to attack.
Ignore the Pressure, Mexico
El Tri has struggled in the Hexagonal stage of World Cup qualifying. The U-20 team bowed out early in the round of 16 at the U-20 World Cup. Since winning Olympic gold last summer, Mexico has struggled on the international stage.
There is a ton of pressure on this Gold Cup team to reverse the country's poor fortunes over the past 12 months. But the team needs to ignore that pressure—and the calls for manager Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre's head—and just play as it is capable of playing.
If Mexico can ignore the outside noise, there is no reason El Tri can't easily dispatch of Canada.
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