Juan Carlos Osorio Looking To Help Mexico Enter Unfamiliar Territory At Copa America

AFP

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By Nick Dorrington (@chewingthecoca)

It would be fair to say that the Copa America Centenario probably represents Mexico's best-ever chance of winning a competition primarily populated by teams from South America. They have a full strength squad at their disposal, enjoyed the lightest travel schedule of any team during the group stage and can count on sizeable and vocal support that essentially amounts to home-field advantage wherever they play.

The man tasked with ensuring that they make good on those advantages is Juan Carlos Osorio. A serious and studious character whose past includes a spell in Kevin Keegan's coaching staff at Manchester City and head-coaching positions in the United States, Brazil and his native Colombia, he took over as Mexico head coach last October.

It was an appointment that was met with a fair degree of scepticism, but he quickly won over the players with his meticulous planning and deep understanding of the game. As a younger man, he secured lodging across the street from Liverpool's training ground in order to covertly study the work of their then-coach Gerard Houllier and that thirst for knowledge has not since abated. He closely analyses the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent and makes subtle tactical changes as required.

Results, too, have provided reason to believe that he is well-suited to the position. Mexico have recorded nine wins and one draw in his time in charge to date, including the victories over Uruguay and Jamaica that had already sealed their progress to the last eight prior to their draw with Venezuela on Monday. A tally of 20 goals scored and just two conceded reads well, as does the fact that they are yet to concede a goal from open play on his watch.

The 55-year-old is a coach who likes to open up the pitch with width high up the field.  Rafael Marquez provides an accurate supply-line from deep, while the quick and tricky Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano offer incision in the final third. With the energy of Hector Herrera in midfield and the alert movement of Javier Hernandez up front, Mexico have thus far come across as a well-balanced, well-organised and effective team.

And this despite Osorio once again employing the relentless rotation policy he became famous for during his highly successful spell at Atletico Nacional. In his three years there he never once named the same starting XI in consecutive matches. Even his goalkeepers were not immune from rotation -- a practice that has continued into this tournament with Alfredo Talavera, Guillermo Ochoa and Jose Corona each starting a game apiece so far.

It is an approach that is not always popular among supporters but is one that should keep Mexico fresher than other teams as the competition moves forward.

Whether that freshness will be utilised beyond this weekend depends on whether they can overcome Copa America holders Chile in Santa Clara on Saturday evening. Osorio's side won 1-0 thanks to a late strike from Hernandez when the sides met in a pre-tournament friendly but were somewhat fortunate to do so after being significantly out-shot. Chile's subsequent defensive issues will, however, provide reason for optimism.

It is probably the toughest test that Osorio has faced as Mexico head coach and one that could yet define the length of his term given how fragile support often proves to be in a country packed full of media outlets happy to endlessly discuss and critique each and every minor detail surrounding the national team. He is the 13th man to have coached Mexico in the last 10 years. If he can lead them to the Copa America Centenario trophy it may just prove that number isn't so unlucky after all.


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