Mexico’s junior squads have had mixed performances this summer, with disappointment in Poland and positive results in Toulon.
While El Tri prepares to play in the Gold Cup later this month, Mexico’s Under-20 and Under-22 teams have been engaged in international tournaments. The U-20 team underperformed at the World Cup in Poland, while the U-22 squad is poised to qualify for the semifinals of the prestigious Toulon Tournament.
On Thursday, the Mexican Soccer Federation (FMF) announced it had fired Diego Ramírez after the pitiful showing of Mexico’s U-20 team at the World Cup in Poland. The Mini Tri was eliminated without putting up much of a fight, losing all three games in Group B while getting outscored 6-1.
It was not supposed to be like that, particularly since Team Mexico featured Real Betis starlet Diego Lainez and León striker José Juan Macías. “We recognize that this was a fiasco,” said FMF sporting director Guillermo Cantú upon announcing the decision to sack Ramírez. “Now we have to take steps to improve this team, but we expect that we will all learn from this failure and improve.
El Mini Tri lost 2-1 to Italy, 3-0 to Japan and finished its tournament by getting dumped by Ecuador 1-0. Ramírez was criticized for being too focused on defense; his team did lack offensive organization and structure in midfield.
But Ramírez can’t be blamed for everything. Monterrey refused to release midfielder Jonathan González (claiming they needed him for the playoffs, tough they rarely used him). And although León did release Macías before the Finals, they held onto him a week longer than originally planned, causing him to miss badly needed training with his U-20 teammates.
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Beyond this, the dates for the U-20 World Cup were known well ahead of time. Why didn’t the FMF arrange its league schedule to accommodate the Mini Tri?
Another issue is the persistent lack of development in young players in Mexico. The U-17 team has enjoyed considerable success (two World Cup titles since 2005 and a second-place finish), but the U-20s don’t do so well. Critics argue that the problem is Liga MX teams lack patience with their academy players. They will hire Argentine and Brazilian strikers instead of giving their young players a chance. Veterans including Andrés Guardado have long criticized league owners for blocking the development of Mexico’s youthful offensive players.
Prepping for the Olympics
If Mexico’s U-22 team defeats China on Sunday it will advance to the semifinals of the Maurice Revello Tournament in Toulon. This tournament is not sanctioned by FIFA, but it predates both the U-17 and the U-20 World Cups by more than 10 years, and it is still considered the unofficial Youth World Championship.
Mexico is a frequent “invitee” to this tournament and has enjoyed some success, reaching the semifinals eight times and even hoisting the champions trophy in 2012. The team finished second last year (losing to England 2-1), and claimed third place in 1976.
This year, coach Javier Lozano is guiding a team that will attempt to qualify for the 2020 Olympics later this summer. The squad is led by players such as striker José de Jesús Godínez, Pachuca midfielder Erick Aguirre, Chivas midfielder Fernando Beltrán and Necaxa fullback Cristián Calderón.
Lozano’s team opened the tournament by defeating Bahrein 2-0 and followed that up with a scoreless draw against Ireland. Mexico and Ireland are tied atop Group C with 4 points and both could qualify for the semifinals if they each win their final group game.
“I’m pleased we opened with a win,” Lozano said after the victory over Bahrein, “but not happy that we allowed Bahrein to play with us when we should have taken control of the match.”
Defender Ismael Govea and midfielder Jairo Torres (both from Atlas) were the goal scorers.
The Ireland game was more physical than tactical, but Mexico held up against the Europeans. Torres hit the crossbar with a free kick in minute 60, but nobody else came close to scoring.