The controversy about the continuity of Colombian head coach Juan Carlos Osorio as the National Team manager reached the country when his methods were questioned as well as his playing style and his rotation of players. All this came after the failure in the last two games of the Confederations Cup and the defeat in the semifinal of the Gold Cup.
It was unfair if we consider the semifinal contest of the Confederations Cup was against world champion Germany and in the game for the third place Mexico faced another soccer powerhouse like Portugal. In the Gold Cup, it is true the North American country lost against Jamaica, but Osorio had a team full of replacements as their top players did not have enough time to rest after the Confederations Cup.
Although Osorio saw the games from the stands because he was sanctioned for this attitude in the contest against Portugal, I was positively surprised by his approach to the passing game. Different from his predecessor, controversial Miguel Herrera, whom he replaced in 2015, the Colombian manager feels it is very important that his teams control ball possession.
For Osorio, the intent to play good soccer was more important than the result. He should be admired for this approach, especially when he was heavily criticized in Mexico. Many asked for him to be fired despite their country led CONCACAF in the most important aspect: the six-team qualifying tournament for Russia 2018, where Mexico was only a win away from clinching a World Cup bid.
The good work paid off. Last Friday Mexico defeated Panama, 1-0, thanks to a lonely goal by Irving Lozano, qualifying to the World Cup for the 16th time in its history. This time, though, the Mexicans did it without suffering. They did not have to play for a wild card spot as four years ago. In fact, Mexico had not earned an easy World Cup bid in the last 12 years.
Osorio’s talent was shown right from the beginning of the six-team tournament, when Mexico defeated the United States in Columbus, Ohio, 2-1, with a late goal by veteran captain Rafa Márquez. The Mexicans increased their lead in the third round, defeating their other tough opponent, Costa Rica, 2-0, at Estadio Azteca. Until clinching the World Cup bid, Mexico achieved excellent results, including five wins, two ties and no losses, scoring 10 goals and giving up only two.
The Mexican National Team can now focus solely in Russia 2018. Osorio will keep trying out players in his system until finding the right men to face the challenge of reaching the quarter finals, something Mexico does not achieve since the 1986 played at its own soil.
The round of 16 has been dramatically negative for Mexico since 1994, losing to Bulgaria, Germany, the United States, Argentina twice and The Netherlands. Reaching the quarterfinals, like Costa Rica did in Brazil 2014, is clearly Osorio’s goal. Without a doubt, the Colombian manager will face it courageously.