The road to New Zealand
Mexico went into the CONCACAF U-20 Championship aiming to both secure their ticket to the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 and successfully defend the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone crown they have held since 2011. Drawn in Group B of the regional showpiece, El Tri kicked off with three consecutive wins, downing Cuba, Canada and Honduras 9-1, 2-0 and 3-0 respectively, before taking on El Salvador with the opportunity to top the section – and clinch New Zealand 2015 qualification – with a match to spare. The Salvadorans made them sweat for a 3-1 win, Mexico not breaking the deadlock until the 62nd minute through Jose Ramirez, and El Tri would again need to show composure aplenty in the competition’s decider – sinking Panama 4-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw.
Strengths and style
‘Balanced’ is arguably the best word to describe Sergio Almaguer’s side, which stormed its way to a U-20 World Cup berth by scoring 18 goals, while only conceding three. Employing a fluid 3-5-2 or 4-4-2 formation, Mexico’s attacking play was based around quick combinations in the final third. Particularly to the fore was midfielder Hirving Lozano, who finished as the tournament’s joint top scorer with five goals to his name, and enjoyed a fruitful partnership with striker Alex Diaz. And in spite of the team’s adventurous approach, a backline led by centre-back Rodrigo Gonzalez proved smoothly effective in covering the spaces left behind.
Though still just 45, Sergio Almaguer boasts vast experience in Mexican football. The former defender made his debut for Angeles de Puebla back in 1987, later going on to enjoy a ten-year career with El Tri's senior national team. Having eventually hung up his boots in 2005, when at Jaguares de Chiapas, his first head coaching position would come at the same club three years later. Come 2012 he was handed the reins of El Tri’s U-20 squad, guiding them to a place at the U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, where their campaign ended against Spain in the Round of 16. Favouring a style based around quick passing and a strong team ethic, attacking and attractive football is a hallmark of Almaguer sides.
FIFA U-20 World Cup record
Mexico are familiar faces on the U-20 World Cup scene, having played in 13 of the 19 final tournaments to date, thus making New Zealand 2015 their 14th appearance. Their best performance remains the competition’s inaugural edition in 1977 in Tunisia, when they finished second to the former Soviet Union. From that point on, however, they have been unable to go beyond the quarter-finals, with the notable exception of a third-place finish at Colombia 2011.
What they said
“In national teams, the right attitude is non-negotiable. You always have to focus on the positives so that, in the end, talent can shine through – sometimes when you least expect it. We’re in very good shape but we won’t take our foot off the pedal and we’re not getting carried away. Ours remains a development role: over and above individual or personal honours, we’re aiming for all the players to succeed in order to do well at a competition like this.”
Sergio Almaguer, Mexico coach.