LOS ANGELES — Mexico’s mindset is fixed on winning the World Cup.
That’s the message from the players ahead of El Tri‘s friendly against Wales on Monday at the Rose Bowl and just three weeks out from Mexico’s World Cup opener against Germany on June 17.
“If I go with a defeatist mentally to compete in a tournament like this one, I think it’s better not to go,” said striker Oribe Peralta on Friday in the national team’s media day.
Asked what the goal was in Russia, his answer was emphatic: “Be world champion.”
“We should dream,” said defender Edson Alvarez. “(Winning the World Cup) is what the team is made for, but we’ll take it step by step, game by game.”
Coach Juan Carlos Osorio’s reign has seen Mexico qualify with ease for the World Cup, but there have been hiccups along the way, including a historic 7-0 loss to Chile in the Copa America Centenario.
But despite that and Mexico being ranked 15th in the FIFA rankings, Osorio also believes.
“We think we can go all the way to the final,” said Osorio in a news conference on Friday. “We have the right to believe.”
Striker Javier Hernandez suggested Mexico will do everything so that the “universe conspires” and Mexico earn success in Russia and that begins on Monday against Wales.
It hasn’t been an ideal start to camp for El Tri, with center-back Nestor Araujo left devastated and in tears at the news that his injury will rule him out of Russia 2018.
The race for fitness is on and Osorio has given Andres Guardado, Diego Reyes, Hector Moreno and Giovani dos Santos until the June 2 match in Mexico City against Scotland to prove that they are injury free and ready to contribute at the World Cup.
Mexico will only have 16 players fully ready to go against Wales. Marco Fabian, Alfredo Talavera, Carlos Salcedo and Miguel Layun are all still on or coming off postseason breaks; Rafa Marquez has legal issues surrounding being in the United States and MLS trio Carlos Vela, Jonathan dos Santos and Giovani dos Santos — who are available, but unlikely to get significant minutes — played this past weekend.
The Wales game will be a huge moment in terms of the battle for spots in the 23, with four players set to be cut on June 3 from the current group of 27 players.
“We think it is going to be a very difficult game and a great opportunity for some that are competing for a place (in Russia),” said Osorio on Friday.
The most obvious issue at present is replacing Araujo at center-back. Edson Alvarez, Hugo Ayala and Oswaldo Alanis will be vying for the position and while it’s possible two of those three may be on the plane to Russia, it’s almost inconceivable that all three will be.
Alanis is likely the outsider right now, but if Osorio is adamant that he wants a left-footed center-back, then there is no alternative option.
The Wales game will also be important for Jesus Molina, whose inclusion was criticized by some in Mexico. Monterrey’s Molina might not be the most expansive of holding midfielders, but his aerial game is strong and he also has the ability to slot in on the right side of a back three, a system Mexico is likely to play at some point in the tournament.
Further forward, a lot of eyes will be on Jurgen Damm. At present, the 25-year-old looks to be the odd winger out. Osorio has a soft spot for Damm due to his pace, but the Tigres player hasn’t found consistency for club or country and he’ll need to offer a reminder of exactly what he could bring to the table if he is chosen for the World Cup.
The largely inexperienced Wales squad under manager Ryan Giggs will be a decent test for El Tri. But even more than the result, the priority for Mexico and Osorio in front of an expected crowd of over 70,000 will be coming through the game without injuries and forming more set conclusions about who will make the final roster.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.