• Mexico are top of Group A on four points
  • A draw would take El Tri into the semi-finals
  • Osorio: "We’d never play for a draw. It’s too risky"

By Martin Langer with Mexico

Juan Carlos Osorio is a man who sticks firmly to his principles. In the wake of his side’s late 2-1 defeat of New Zealand, the Colombian coach has been the subject of much scrutiny in the Mexican press, not least because of his decision to make eight changes from the side that drew with Portugal in El Tri’s opening game. Despite the criticism, however, nothing has been said to make him believe he got his team selection wrong.

On the eve of his side’s make-or-break meeting with tournament hosts Russia, Osorio spoke to FIFA about his decisions so far, the tournament in general and Mexico’s hopes.

Well-laid plans
Osorio began by explaining how the decision to make so many changes against the All Whites came about, one that owed much to meticulous planning and little to the spur of the moment.

“We’d had it in mind for six months, since we found out what the match schedule was,” said the Colombian. “Unlike the World Cup, you only get a couple of days’ break in this tournament. We looked into the way all our opponents play, and we decided to send one team out against Portugal, then another against New Zealand and then choose the most appropriate side for Russia.”

The Tri coach’s approach to counteracting the short break between matches and the All Whites’ physical style of play caused some controversy in Mexico. “We knew they could cause us problems with their direct style and that the match would be physically demanding,” he explained. “In making that decision we gave ourselves the opportunity to freshen the team up, but even then Carlos Salcedo and Hector Moreno still picked up injuries. That’s the way we planned it, and, as a result, 80 percent of my players are perfectly fresh now.”

Moment of truth
It is hard to find a coach who is more passionate about football and more meticulous than Osorio. Talk to him about the game and the discussion is sure to turn to formations, footballing philosophies and approaches to what’s happening on the pitch. The Colombian has very clear ideas on virtually every topic, among them the need to be brave.

Though Mexico need just a point against the hosts to check into the semi-finals of Russia 2017, the idea of playing for one is not something that has crossed his mind at all. “We’d never play for a draw. It’s too risky!” he said. “We’re going to try and win, even though we know our opponents are going to be in a tricky situation. They normally play 5-4-1, but they might have to change that because they need the three points. You have to take that into account when choosing your tactics and your players.”

Will he make yet more changes? Will he revert to the players who started the opening game? “Like I said, nearly all our players are available thanks to the plan we’ve followed, and we won’t be making any decisions until we’ve finished our final training session. What we will be doing, though, is sending out the team we feel has the best chance on the night.”

Russia will have thousands of fans cheering them on from the stands. Asked if that will translate into added pressure for his players, Osorio said: “Anything but! It’s going to be a great setting for us and a great opportunity to show that we can produce our very best as visitors. It’s not something we’re used to because even in friendlies we usually have most of the crowd on our side. We’re confident the players can rise to the challenge.”