DOHA, Qatar – What do Mexicans Andres Guardado and Guillermo Ochoa have in common with football greats like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi?
Like the Ballon d’Or winners El TriThe veterans of are now part of an incredibly exclusive roster of players who have been called up to five World Championships – a record unequaled.
Along with Ronaldo and Messi, Guardado and Ochoa join the likes of Germany’s Lothar Matthäus, Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon and Mexican icons Rafael Marquez and Antonio Carbajal, who have all played in five tournaments each. It’s an amazing stretch for both Guardado and Ochoa, starting with the 2006 World Cup.
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But as Mexico gears up for the start of its World Cup season in Qatar on Tuesday, there is more ambivalence than excitement among fans and the media about the two veterans and some other members of Mexico’s old guard.
Following the announcement of manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s final World Cup line-up earlier this month – with an average age of 28.5 – eyebrows were raised when there was not a single player under 23, including notable exclusions such as Feyenoord’s Santiago Gimenez and Braga’s Diego Lainez.
The Mexico squad is not lacking in experience but there are still concerns that some of the players may have passed the peak of their abilities. Coupled with just three wins in their last nine games in all competitions, Mexico’s form has many fans and pundits questioning just how resilient this squad will be in Qatar.
A day before Mexico’s tournament opener against Poland, Martino supported his criticized group of players.
“Like I’ve always said, this national team is very strong, especially lately,” said the coach during Monday’s pre-match press conference. “From the summer until now the team has started to play really good games, but the results in general just haven’t followed.”
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Although Ochoa appeared to spend more time on Monday criticizing Mexican media coverage than discussing Tuesday’s game against Poland, the goalkeeper attempted to turn the script on one of the recent talking points El Tri too little youthful energy in the squad.
“There are a lot of young people [in our squad] who have no World Cup experience,” said Ochoa. “The zest of that first game, that first World Cup, will always be there.”
The 36-year-old Guardado, Mexico’s new all-time leader (178 caps), who has declared this will be his last World Cup, might even have the same zeal. called it his “last dance”.
“I’m going to play at the World Cup and [then] My participation in the national team is over, it’s my last dream,” the Mexico captain told Rondo Magazine earlier this year. “It’s the last opportunity to achieve something for the national team.”
The drive and motivation will come from Guardado, Ochoa and many other veterans who were key players in Martino’s process, but time will tell if it’s the right mix of characters for this World Cup.
For what it’s worth, a focus on veterans has worked for Martino in the past. At the 2010 World Cup, the Argentina coach led an underdog from Paraguay, about the same average age (28.1) as Mexico, to the quarterfinals of the tournament in 2022. Twelve years later, can Martino recreate some of that magic?
On Tuesday, the first major test for his squad will come against Poland, a side likely to struggle with El Tri for second and final place from Group C to the knockout stages, with Argentina the expected group winners.
Traditionally, Mexico have had a more notable World Cup presence since 1994, with their consistent knockout stage qualifications in seven consecutive appearances – compared to just three group-stage eliminations for Poland in the same heat – but coach Czeslaw Michniewicz would do so do not accept that Mexico will be the favorite at Stadium 974 on Tuesday.
“We don’t see Mexico that way – we’re all at the World Cup,” Poland’s coach said at the press conference. “We don’t rank our opponents.”
Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny also agreed El Tri are not above them.
“I think the Mexico team is at a similar level to us,” said the Juventus goalkeeper. “It’s going to be an interesting game.”
Assuming Argentina don’t struggle too much in Group C and Saudi Arabia don’t pull off any surprises, the three points available on Tuesday will boost the chances of a place in the last 16 for either Mexico or Poland.
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if El Tri three points, it could be enough for a complete 180-degree turn of the negative spotlight that’s being focused on Martino and his aging squad. Confidence in his veterans on the sport’s greatest stage should once again prove on the road to success.
And yet, if Mexico loses, or maybe even draws, it wouldn’t be hard to portray Martino’s squad selection as a risky gamble. A team that appeared to be in need of youth replacements and a generational change would feel a painful step backwards during the World Cup.
For now, Ochoa and Guardado share the World Cup record for most Worlds call-ups, but if things don’t go in their favor, that may be all they’ll go home with early and a potentially disappointing exit from the Worlds.