Mexico's 2018 in review: Germany win at World Cup stands as high point

A year that had so much promise ended up like almost every other year for El Tri. Goal looks back at the highs and lows

When Mexico fans look back on 2018, they’ll remember it like a lot of other World Cup years.

There were moments of excitement. There’s reason for hope in the future. Ultimately, though, the wait goes on for Mexico to make a World Cup quarterfinal on foreign soil.

2019 will bring plenty of other things for El Tri fans to look forward to, but let’s close out 2018 by looking back on the year that was:

That goal – Mexico fans were on edge at the start of the World Cup. Juan Carlos Osorio’s squad had been sent off from Mexico City with chants of “Fuera Osorio” and boos after a 1-0 victory over Scotland.

The first group match of the tournament looked unforgiving. A matchup against the reigning World Cup champion, Germany, would decide how the tournament was going to go for El Tri. At least, that’s how it seemed at the time.

The match started and Mexico was … playing well? Not only playing well, but maybe playing well enough to get a result out of this one.

That’s exactly what it did, with Hirving Lozano capping off a move that included contributions from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Carlos Vela, to give Mexico a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute. Defensive contributions from players like Rafa Marquez and Edson Alvarez – yes, really to both – helped the team keep a clean sheet and get on track to win the group.

Ultimately, it didn’t happen, but there were few moments as euphoric for El Tri fans as the ones they felt that day in Moscow, those they experienced after beating Korea and the ones they lived through heading into the final group contest against Sweden.

Chucky’s breakout – Lozano has made many lists of ‘breakout players’ in 2018, but the truth is he’s been on Mexico fans’ radar for much longer than 12 months.

Even those of us who watched him start with Pachuca as a teenager and eventually lead the club to Liga MX and Concacaf Champions League titles weren’t sure he’d go this far, though.

The 23-year-old not only scored his first World Cup goal this season but also got off the mark in the UEFA Champions League qualification stages. Then, he scored twice in the competition proper. He also lifted the Eredivisie trophy with PSV in the spring and looks to be on his way to helping the club to another championship – that is, if he doesn’t make a move to an even bigger club this winter.

The future is bright for Lozano, who is the most important player in the present and foreseeable future for the Mexico national team.

U-17 ladies make a statement – Mexico’s squad at the U-17 Women’s World Cup made a historic run to the final before falling short against Spain.

With a team mostly comprised of domestic-based players, Monica Vergara’s squad not only had a good showing but also now have places where they can return to and continue to hone their games in a competitive environment.

With Mexico planning to bid to host the tournament in 2020, the development of young women’s players will be something to watch going forward.

Another elimination means the quinto partido quest continues – After imploding against Sweden, Mexico ended up facing Brazil in the round of 16.

Osorio’s plan to utilize Rafa Marquez, just months away from qualifying to play in your over-40 league, to stop some of the world’s best attackers didn’t work out. By the time he’d pulled off Marquez, it was too late. The Selecao danced past Mexico and into the quarterfinal.

The loss extended the streak to seven consecutive World Cups at which Mexico has made it out of the group stage only to lose the next match. 2022 beckons.

Ferretti fizzles – For a coach that was supposed to be the best option Mexico had to take over, interim manager Tuca Ferretti sure didn’t impress in the three friendly windows after the World Cup.

The Ferretti era ended with Mexico winning once and losing five times, outscored 12-4 in total.

Results didn’t matter all that much. After all, the post-World Cup friendly games were supposed to be about getting young players integrated with the national team. Did Ferretti succeed even in that task, though? More than half of his final starting XI was 26 or older.

March’s frustrating loss to Croatia – It looks silly in hindsight, but there were alarm bells ringing in March as Mexico broke camp for the final time before the World Cup squad would convene.

Osorio and El Tri players spent bulk of the build-up to a friendly against Croatia complaining about how the European nation had cheapened the contest at AT&T Stadium by allowing many of its top stars to return to their clubs after the first friendly of the March window.

Mexico emerged from the match not only beaten but also bruised. The Croatia “B-team,” comprised of players who later would play in the World Cup final, beat El Tri, 1-0. More concerning at the time were injuries to center backs Nestor Araujo and Deigo Reyes, plus an additional concern for Carlos Salcedo, who was substituted from the contest. 

Ultimately, only Salcedo would make it on the field at the World Cup. Reyes made it as far as Russia before having to make way on the final day teams could make roster changes. Araujo recovered from the knee injury suffered in the match but had additional complications during recovery that kept him from participating in Santos Laguna’s championship run or Mexico’s World Cup chase.

No France for WNT – Despite the success of the Liga MX Femenil that provided a place to play for so many of the women who’d previously had to look elsewhere, the Mexico women’s national team was underwhelming in qualification.

A 2-0 loss to Panama in the final group game meant Mexico didn’t progress to the final four of the Concacaf Women’s Championship and watched from home as the United States, Canada and Jamaica locked up their spots at the 2019 World Cup.

Was there that much ugly for Mexico in 2018? Things were mostly either good or bad. There are, however, a few things that will fade with the memory of time – some of it may already be forgotten. It shouldn’t be, though.

Miguel Layun’s stunning goal against Iceland … and Miguel Layun – Layun returned to El Tri in the final friendly window of the season, but as he continues to struggle for playing time with Villarreal and with the national team transitioning away from this generation of players, Layun may fade into the background.

His first big moment in 2018 with the national team was a rocket of a goal against Iceland that gave El Tri a confidence-boosting victory. Spirits fell just days later with the defeat to Croatia.

Layun’s contributions in Russia may have been understated. It was his versatility that allowed Osorio to play with the formation he did in the group stage. His omission from the round of 16 match against Brazil was all the more strange because of it. By the time he came on at halftime, it was too late. It may be the last time he comes onto casual Mexico fans’ radar in a significant way.

Perhaps a return to Liga MX is in the cards for the Veracruz native (though the Tiburones Rojos are such a mess that it seems far more likely to be with America or Queretaro). He’d also fit in well in MLS, with his English already at a high level and his contract not as high as other members of the Mexico national team.

At any rate, it’s worth remembering what Layun contributed to the national team from start to finish this year.

Dennis te Kloese’s impact on El Tri – The year started with Mexico convincing Monterrey midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez to represent El Tri rather than the United States.

Te Kloese played an enormous role in convincing the teenager and his family to put on the green shirt rather than the Stars and Stripes. But that was just one of dozens of behind-the-scenes decisions he made as the Director of National Teams and when he was in charge of the youth national teams before that.

Now joining the LA Galaxy as general manager, Mexico will miss out on the fresh perspective the Dutchman provided. Perhaps the recruiting battles for Mexican-Americans – of which there will be several more in the near future – but Te Kloese’s responsibilities went far beyond wooing young players. He’ll be missed by Mexico in 2019, even if fans don’t realize it.

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