Toothless attack a concern for pessimistic Mexico
Pessimism surrounds Mexico as they gear up for the World Cup in Qatar after inconsistency in qualifying and warm-up matches.
Despite finishing second in the eight-team CONCACAF qulifiers behind Canada, Gerardo 'Tata' Martino's side drew criticism for the performances, with their toothless attack posing a major concern.
Mexico, who lost the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup finals against the U.S. last year, have averaged one goal per game in their 15 competitive matches and friendlies in 2022.
'El Tri' fans and a large section of the Mexican soccer media continue to question their Argentinian coach, who is under immense pressure to turn around their fortunes.
But Martino believes the pessimism will only motivate the team to prove the critics wrong.
"If someone is a pessimist, they shouldn't change their opinion if this team does well at the World Cup," Martino said in September.
"Perhaps they'll change their mind briefly. But, yes, the environment around the team is absolutely one of pessimism.
"I tend to believe that will strengthen the group internally. And the way things are going, this pessimism will make us stronger before we play a World Cup."
Mexico will be looking to end a 36-year wait for a place in the quarter-finals, having reached the last 16 in each of the previous seven editions.
They face a stern test in Group C, where they are paired alongside Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Poland.
Injuries are the latest problem threatening Mexico's campaign in Qatar, with a number of key players sidelined.
Martino has said he will make a last-minute decision on the inclusion of Raul Jimenez (groin) and Jesus 'Tecatito' Corona (fractured fibula), while Rogelio Funes Mori, Luis Romo and Jorge Sanchez are recovering and Hector Herrera is a doubt.
With Mexico desperate for goals and short on options, all-time top scorer Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez could have been the one to fill the void but the LA Galaxy forward was left out of their initial 31-man squad despite his good form this season.
Hernandez, who has played at three World Cups, has not earned a place in the squad since 2019.
Winger Hirving Lozano, forward Alexis Vega and versatile midfielder Edson Alvarez will have to step up if Mexico are to spring a surprise at the finals.
Lozano key to scoring more
As Mexico head to the World Cup shy of goals and with a squad ravaged by injuries, a great deal of attacking responsibility rests on the shoulders of winger Hirving Lozano.
He sent Mexican fans into a frenzy when his goal helped the team stun holders Germany at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and supporters will be hoping 'Chucky' is at the peak of his powers when they play in Qatar.
While the Napoli winger has started eight out of 15 games for the Serie A side this season and bagged only three goals, he has the pace and skill to unlock the tightest of defences.
Capable of playing on either flank and through the centre, the versatile Lozano will be a much-needed source of firepower for Mexico's frontline, which could be without the injured duo of Raul Jimenez and Jesus 'Tecatito' Corona at the World Cup.
With 16 goals and 11 assists in 59 international appearances, Lozano is a vital cog in Mexico's attack, boasting all the attributes of a classic inverted winger.
The 27-year-old missed some games for Mexico this year with a shoulder injury but will draw confidence from his performance in their 1-0 friendly win over Peru in September when he ended an eight-game drought with a late winner.
Apart from the goals and creativity Lozano offers, the winger could also be an unexpected leader for coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino's side.
"After so many years in Europe, obviously it makes a footballer evolve in every way," Martino told broadcaster TUDN.
"It's clear that he is evolving, not only in the soccer part but also in the professional part and in the human part."
Lozano will hope for more playing time with Napoli before making the trip to Qatar in order to give Mexico their best chance of getting out of Group C, which also includes Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia.
Following is a statbox on Mexico at the World Cup.
FIFA ranking: 13 (as of Oct. 6)
Mexico have played in 16 World Cups, including the last seven. Their best performances came in 1970 and 1986, when they reached the quarter-finals.
'El Tri' have made the last 16 each time in the last seven editions.
How they qualified:
Mexico qualified second in the eight-team CONCACAF table. They collected 28 points from 14 matches, finishing behind Canada on goal difference, scoring 17 goals and conceding eight.
Mexico have struggled in attack, having averaged one goal per game in their 15 competitive matches and friendlies in 2022.