Mexico takes on Germany on Thursday afternoon in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. It's a match that could be an inflection point for a squad that's appeared to be on the cusp of doing great things for years but has never been able to get over the hump.
The core of the Mexican national team have been regarded as a "Golden Generation" of sorts for Mexican soccer since they were youngsters. The likes of Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos, Andres Guardado, Hector Moreno and Guillermo Ochoa -- to name a few -- provided hope of a big future on the international stage when they reached their peaks. Now that they're all in their late 20s or early 30s, approaching or exceeding 100 caps apiece, plenty of individual success and achievements in CONCACAF have made them one of the best Mexican teams of all time.
But success in the world's biggest tournaments has still eluded Mexico. This highly skilled group of players couldn't progress past the round of 16 in either of the past two World Cups. They even needed help from the USMNT on the final match day of qualifying get into the 2014 World Cup after a dismal qualifying campaign. And although they won their group in last summer's Copa America Centenario, they were embarrassed by eventual champion -- and current Confederations Cup finalist -- Chile.
A lot has to be done to bury the painful memories under jubilant new ones. An upset of Germany would be a good start toward not just those ends, but also toward finally living up to the lofty expectations that come with being the finest group of individual talent Mexican soccer has ever seen.
First, they have to actually beat the Germans. That's not an easy task, even if Germany sent its B-team to the Confederations Cup. With an average age of under 24, lots of these German players are experiencing their first taste of senior-level international soccer. Young players in Germany aren't like young players from other countries, though. Even the youngest players on this squad already have a good deal of experience in the Bundesliga.
"I think being young and having experience are two different things," Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio said. "It doesn't matter if they're young or not. What really matters is how much experience they have although they are young."
While this talented group of Mexican players finally reaching their peak is one reason we've seen the team look better in both World Cup qualifying -- they stand atop the Hex -- and the Confederations Cup, Osorio is another key reason. The team had six managers between 2008-15, leading to a lot of style changes and instability. But Osorio brought with him a vision that is now being realized.
Osorio has preached cohesion in his two years as head man of El Tri. Whereas this used to be a collection of skilled individuals, it is now a true team with a defining philosophy. The 11 men on the pitch attack and defend in sync. They hold possession and move the ball methodically through the midfield. Guardado, Jonathan dos Santos and Hector Herrera provide a combination of attacking flair and defensive brutishness that provides balance. They're constantly moving and playing one-twos to keep the defense on its toes.
From there, they attack through the wings, where they have a surplus of talented players. Vela, Hirving Lozano and Javier Aquino are all fantastic moving from the flanks. Osorio has even made the bold move of using strikers such as Chicharito on the left side instead of through the middle. Those wingers look for the ball to come short from the midfield or long from defense, always looking forward to get the ball into the box and into a scoring position, and always working together, as a unit.
That cohesion shines through in more than how they play, but also in how they act. Whenever El Tri has scored in this Confederations Cup, it has celebrated as a group. Even off the pitch they seem to be having fun together. Look no further than the pastelazo of Miguel Layun on his birthday, or the players giving each other wedgies during training.
The players of Mexico's "Golden Generation" are finally at the peak of their power. And thanks to this newfound cohesion on and off the pitch, they have a chance to prove it in the semifinal. A win over Die Mannschaft would show that they're ready to compete with the best in the world.
More importantly, it would give them an opportunity to enact some revenge on Chile and finally get their hands on a piece of major silverware. And with so many of these players at the pinnacle of their prowess -- and a winning mentality finally in tow -- it could also breed confidence that they can make a real run next summer at the 2018 World Cup.
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Cy Brown writes about soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.