World Cup 2018 team preview: Can Mexico finally win a knockout match on foreign soil?

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group F is Mexico.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.

Outlook

Odds to win Group F: 15.4%
Odds to advance: 46.5%
Odds to win World Cup: 1.2%
Elo rank: 16
Yahoo Sports power rank: 11

Our writers say: El Tri has qualified for the knockout stages at the past six tournaments, and no doubt coach Juan Carlos Osorio expects that streak to continue this summer. Question is, can Mexico finally win a do-or-die World Cup match? It’s accomplished the feat just once, playing on home soil, way back in 1986. Doug McIntyre

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Hirving Lozano could be the key to Mexico’s attack at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 16th
Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals (1970, 1986)
2014 finish: Lost in the Round of 16 to the Netherlands
Qualifying: Topped CONCACAF’s Hexagonal final round
Schedule: Germany (Sunday, June 17, 11 a.m., FS1), South Korea (Saturday, June 23, 2 p.m., Fox), Sweden (Wednesday, June 27, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)

[Group F preview]

Squad

Manager: Juan Carlos Osorio
Captain: Andres Guardado (M)
Top players: Hirving “Chucky” Lozano (F), Guardado, Hector Herrera (M), Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (F), Jesus “Tecatito” Corona (F), Miguel Layun (D), Hector Moreno (D), Carlos Vela (F)
Full 23-man squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: Fitness concerns and uninspiring friendlies and quadrennial pessimism aside, this is a pretty darn complete team. There’s quality and experience throughout. No one player stands head and shoulders above the rest, but there is firepower, versatility and depth across the forward line. That’s why so many “top players” are listed above. At least two of Corona, Vela and Raul Jimenez will likely have to settle for places on the bench, because Lozano, after a breakout season in Holland, looks like Mexico’s best attacker. Behind that forward line, Herrera is an excellent two-way midfielder who basically won Porto the Primeira Liga title. There’s a lot to like here.

Why they’ll lose games: Injuries and uncertainty – and the two are related. It’s looking more and more likely that Diego Reyes’ injury will keep him out of the squad, leaving a gaping hole at the base of midfield. There’s also a bit of an imbalance in defense, with Layun – who is a midfield candidate as well – the only true top-level fullback. Carlos Salcedo could be a second, but that would turn center back into a weakness. (Nestor Araujo has already withdrawn due to injury.)

Most Mexico doubt, however, still stems from the fact that it hasn’t won a World Cup knockout round game on foreign soil … ever. Which is a remarkable statistic, given the nation’s soccer heritage. Oh, and many fans distrust Osorio and his incessant experimentation.

How they’ll play: With a lot of tempo and pizzazz, generally. But specifically? Osorio is famous – or infamous, depending on whom you ask – for tinkering; for adapting his approach, whether that’s a formation or a specific tactic, game to game. He deviated from the qualifying formula in March, going to a 3-3-1-3 formation. He shuffled players around in all three warmup friendlies, never once fielding a clear first-choice 11, and only getting one goal. Chances are, he’ll use more than one system in Russia.

Projected lineup (4-3-3): Guillermo Ochoa; Edson Alvarez, Carlos Salcedo, Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun; Diego Reyes, Hector Herrera, Andres Guardado; Carlos Vela, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Hirving Lozano.

We’ll keep Reyes in the projected team for now. But we’ll admit: This is almost certainly not the 11 that faces Germany. Jesus Gallardo could start ahead of Alvarez, with Layun moving to right back. Or he could take Reyes’ place, with Layun or Alvarez moving into midfield. Or Salcedo could start on the right, with Hugo Ayala – or Reyes, if fit – partnering Moreno.

In midfield, Jonathan dos Santos is an option in a deeper role. His brother, Giovani dos Santos, is an option further forward.

Or, heck … Osorio could pull out the ultimate wild card and start Rafa Marquez as the defensive midfielder. Everything is on the table.

In attack, Vela vs. Corona is a 50/50 battle for the final spot among the front three – assuming it is a front three. Vela could also play in an attacking midfield role against inferior teams. Marco Fabian is another contender for that position. And even Chicharito didn’t start the last two warmup friendlies. He should lead the line against Germany, but Raul Jimenez and Oribe Peralta are pushing him.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: We’re going to look at this section from an American perspective. Because El Tri are the U.S. men’s national team’s greatest rivals. They’re also, however, the most popular team in the United States. Mexican national team games almost always outdraw USMNT games on American television. Its games outsell U.S. games on American soil. So that – the tens of millions of Mexican Americans who feel unbridled love for El Tri – is what makes this team unique here. And it’s why you should hop aboard and root for it …

[Feature: How Mexico is recruiting the other type of dual national: fans]

Why to root for them: Leander Schaerlaeckens laid out the case here. And it’s a strong one. Love they neighbor.

Why to root against them: Only if you’re too embroiled in the rivalry and detest Marquez for wronging you so many times over the years.

What else makes them unique: Marquez, who was in Mexico’s preliminary squad and could participate in his fifth World Cup, was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury last August for alleged ties to a drug kingpin. Now, when he trains with the national team, he does so without sponsor logos on his kit. That’s pretty unique too!

If you’re going to watch one game … The Germany showdown will be massive. There’ll be quality and tension and – especially with Brazil likely waiting for the group runner-up in the Round of 16 – stakes.

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

Group previews

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

– – – – – – –

Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

More World Cup coverage from Yahoo Sports:
2018 World Cup preview hub
Ranking the top 100 players at the World Cup
FC Yahoo Mixer: The Ronaldo vs. Messi debate
A tactical guide to the 2018 World Cup
How Vladimir Putin can use the World Cup to his benefit