Miguel Herrera decided to face New Zealand with a home-based team. This means that Villarreal forward Giovani dos Santos will not appear in the two-legged playoff, and it has a lot to do with his recent performance with Mexico.
But why has dos Santos become one of El Tri's most talked about players, and what has been his role with the national team and his current club?
He came to the scene in 2005, when Mexico won the U-17 World Cup in Peru. Gio won the Silver Ball for his performance.
He played with Barcelona B and Barcelona from 2006 to 2008, when he moved to England, where he wore the jerseys of Tottenham Hotspur and Ipswich Town. He then played for Galatasaray, but it wasn't until he left for Spain when he got continuity. He has represented Racing Santander, Mallorca and Villarreal.
Although he has found success with the Yellow Submarine, dos Santos has yet to prove himself with El Tri.
With Villarreal, Gio has scored six times in 12 appearances, more than he ever did with any of his former clubs.
This has to do with two things, mainly. He is getting a lot of minutes, 840 out of 1,080 possible, to be exact. The other one is that he has been playing as a second striker, which has given him the liberty to finish plays on a regular basis.
Actually, he thinks that is the main reason why he has not performed to his best with Mexico. He told Spanish newspaper El Pais:
They (Mexico coaches) impose a system of play without caring about the position you play with on your club. Here, I play second striker and there right winger. I can’t have the same performance.
He is a thriving force with Villarreal, where he not only scores but also brings in creativity and leaves the defenders behind.
The Mexican can also be a very valuable asset when the team needs to unbalance the rivals’ defense and gain depth. Gio delivers both, mainly, with speed.
Most of his goals with Villarreal have one thing in common: he comes from behind, which he hardly ever does with Mexico because he is too busy trying to create plays and feeding balls to his teammates. Here are three of his goals with Villarreal so far.
In front of Real Madrid
With Mexico, he has played 4,947 minutes and has scored 14 goals. However, this year he appeared 13 times and did not send the ball to the back of the net in any of them, something that had not happened since 2008, when he played six matches.
Why has dos Santos not scored with Mexico? Why shouldn't he be a winger anymore?
In the 2011 Gold Cup, he scored three times. He did it by playing as a second striker, just behind Javier Hernandez.
He actually stayed in that position the whole year. The result was good as he scored five times in 19 games.
A year later, Jose Manuel de la Torre decided to change formation for the third round of the World Cup qualifier. He went for a 4-4-2 lineup, in which Chicharito Hernandez and Aldo de Nigris teamed up in the front, leaving dos Santos in the right flank.
This put dos Santos under the spotlight. For the first time he did not play all the games for which he was capped. He stepped into the pitch in five of the six calls he received.
Sure he was not going through his best moment, but at least he was getting continuity with Mallorca, something he did not have in England.
The situation continues to be pretty much the same.
While Villarreal boss Marcelino Garcia has understood how lethal dos Santos can be when coming from behind, the three El Tri coaches with whom Gio has played in 2013 have insisted in putting him in the right sideline, or even worse, on the left, like Victor Manuel Vucetich did against Panama.
For the time being, dos Santos will not play for Mexico, and that is the right call. He will continue to grow confidence with his club and avoid being trashed for his underperformance with the national team.
But 2014 will be another process. If El Tri secures its ticket to the World Cup dos Santos will come in handy for sure.