Despite making their now-customary exit in the Round of 16, Mexico had good cause for optimism come the end of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Possessing one of the finest generation of youngsters in their history, El Tri proved they have the resources to continue competing on the biggest stage in football
The only question mark concerned their ability to find suitable replacements for stalwarts such as Rafa Marquez, Gerardo Torrado, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Guillermo Franco. Yet, judging by their first three friendlies since South Africa 2010, there is more to Mexico’s future than the likes of Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez, with a promising new breed seemingly set to make their mark.
Those friendlies came against new world champions Spain, and tough South American opponents in Colombia and Ecuador. Though the Mexicans collected a solitary win in those outings, they almost upset the Spanish and at least gave fans a glimpse of how the Tricolor side might shape up when the Brazil 2014 qualifiers begin.
I loved playing for my country and it’s something I’m going to do with a lot of pride. It was a dream and I want to do it again.
No stranger to the national side at the age of 27, Pachuca centre-back Leobardo Lopez missed out on Javier Aguirre’s squad for South Africa through injury but produced a composed display against the Colombians last week. Perhaps the most surprising call-up of all was that of defensive midfielder Antonio Rios, who has only a year’s experience in the Mexican top flight with Toluca. The 21-year-old looked right at home on his debut against Los Cafeteros, however, dispatching his duties with a minimum of fuss and holding his own alongside his more illustrious team-mates.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com after the Colombia match in Monterrey, Rios spelled out what it meant to be part of the Mexico set-up. “It was wonderful to be playing here in front of a full stadium with all these fans behind us,” he said. “I was excited but calm at the same time, and I’m looking to be here for more than just one cap. I hope there are more to come in the next few games.”
Caretaker coach Efrain Flores, who stepped in for Aguirre after the FIFA World Cup, has also been taking a look at his options further forward. Ask any Mexican football fan who the player of the moment is in the Primera Division and the answer is sure to be Javier Orozco. The Cruz Azul forward has already scored six goals in seven games this season and celebrated his promotion to the national side by hitting four in a single match in the CONCACAF Champions League last month. Though he failed to score in his appearances against Ecuador and Colombia, the 22-year-old served notice of the threat he poses to defenders.
“I loved playing for my country and it’s something I’m going to do with a lot of pride,” Orozco said after making his debut in green. “It was a dream and I want to do it again, although I should say that my ambition for the moment is to help Cruz Azul win the championship.”
Though the same age as Orozco, Enrique Esqueda already has experience of representing his country, forming part of Mexico’s so-called 'golden generation' along with Vela and Dos Santos. Having taken longer to impose himself at the highest level, the young America striker is now ready to make up for lost time and renew old acquaintances. “It’s very important that I know how my team-mates play,” he said. “I spent years alongside them and that’s going to help me fit in with them.”
Yet perhaps the pick of the new bunch is Monarcas Morelia’s Elias Hernandez, the only one to feature in all three friendlies and the scorer of the only goal of the game against Colombia, a spectacular volley that came after Cafetero keeper David Ospina had failed to hold on to an Esqueda piledriver. Mexico’s expectant fans are hoping that piece of predatory finishing is a sign of bigger things to come.