Mexico's friendly against Ecuador on Saturday will be a chance for fans to make a late judgement on a new-look squad ahead of the FIFA 2014 World Cup. This is a very different group than the one that impressed neutrals during the same tournament in 2010.
As for Ecuador, a lot of focus will be on misfiring Manchester United star Antonio Valencia. The 28-year-old's nation needs him to be in top form when the competition begins in Brazil.
Here's a look at the recent form of both teams ahead of this intriguing friendly:
|Away vs. U.S.A||April 3, 2014||2-2||Draw|
|Home vs. Nigeria||March 6, 2014||0-0||Draw|
|Away vs. Costa Rica||Oct. 16, 2013||2-1||Lost|
|Home vs. Panama||Oct. 12, 2013||2-1||Won|
|Away vs. U.S.A.||Sept. 11, 2013||2-0||Lost|
|Home vs. Honduras||Sept. 7, 2013||1-2||Lost|
The form guide shows a rocky recent road for manager Miguel Herrera and his revamped squad. That has been reflected not only by results, but also in the standard of the performances.
Mexico hasn't been playing with the bright energy and creative daring often shown in the past. Herrera has tried to mix age with youth for this tournament, as Martha Guerra, writing for The Telegraph, has noted:
Herrera has selected to play a balanced team for the World Cup, choosing the best from what he had. Of the final 23-man squad 16 are based domestically and seven come from European clubs.
The experience comes with Rafael Marquez, Hector Moreno, Jesus Corona, Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Slacido, Oribe Peralta and Javier Hernandez combined with youngsters like Carlos Pena, Luis Montes, Raul Jimenez, Isaac Brizuela, Alan Pulido, Juan Carlos Vazquez and Diego Reyes.
But Herrera must use his final World Cup preparations to put some swagger back in his team.
Here's a look at Ecuador's form:
|Away vs. Netherlands||May 17, 2014||1-1||Draw|
|Away vs. Australia||March 5, 2014||3-4||Won|
|Home vs. Honduras||Nov. 20, 2013||2-2||Draw|
|Away vs. Argentina||Nov. 16, 2013||0-0||Draw|
|Away vs. Chile||Oct. 16, 2013||2-1||Lost|
|Home vs. Uruguay||Oct. 11, 2013||1-0||Won|
Being hard to beat has been a pattern for a resilient Ecuador squad. Coach Reinaldo Rueda has drilled a true stubborn streak into his group.
But Rueda faces a major headache over what to do at the striker position.
Here are two predictions for how this game will play out, including the final score.
Ecuador Will Lack Guile in Attack
Ecuador has a serious problem at striker. Rueda had been counting on a player like Felipe Caicedo to lead the attack, but he succumbed to injury in the draw with Netherlands, as did his deputy Felipe Martinez, according to Sky Sports.
That is naturally going to put a greater strain on players such as Valencia and Jefferson Montero to manufacture goals. The latter, a crafty winger, could surprise many in Brazil.
As for Valencia, he needs to vary his movement more than he has done in recent seasons with the Red Devils. Too often he has been content to hug the touchline at club level.
But internationally, Valencia has usually shown a greater willingness to make runs through the middle. Needing goals shared around the team, Rueda must encourage greater fluency from the members of his forward line.
Without it, Ecuador won't trouble the Mexico defence.
Javier Hernandez Will Score
While Ecuador is likely to draw a blank in this game, a potent finisher for Mexico will remind his country's coach and supporters of his quality.
Javier Hernandez has been a virtual outcast at Old Trafford in the English Premier League. That has naturally made a dent in his standing internationally.
But Hernandez can prove he hasn't lost his knack for capitalizing on good supply and converting chances. International football can be a form of liberation for Hernandez this summer.
A goal against Ecuador will be a great start.
Predicted Final Score: Mexico 2-0 Ecuador
This is a chance for Herrera's team to establish some rapport and work on the combinations that might make an impact in Brazil. It's the perfect opportunity to blend together a mix of experience and youth in a squad loaded with domestic talent.