A year after playing at the Confederations Cup, Mexico returned to Russia on Monday hoping to once again break through to the latter stages of a World Cup.
It’s been 32 years since Mexico last reached the quarter-finals of the tournament and head coach Juan Carlos Osorio has been utilising an unconventional selection approach to try to put an end to a frustrating pattern.
Under Osorio, Mexicans are never quite sure who will be playing for the national team.
A different line-up has been deployed by the coach in all of his 44 games in charge and now questions are being asked about ‘tactical tinkering’ going into the finals.
Osorio, who replaced fan favourite Miguel Herrera in 2015, isn’t budging.
The Colombian has no plans to change the strategy because it carried Mexico to the World Cup as the top-placed team in CONCACAF qualifying for the first time in two decades.
But changing formations depending on the opponents hasn’t fared well in all competitions.
The Mexicans were consigned to their worst-ever defeat in the 2016 Copa America Centenario quarter-finals, trounced 7-0 by Chile.
In a pair of semi-finals last year, they were beaten 4-1 by Germany in the Confederations Cup and lost 1-0 to Jamaica in the Gold Cup.
Progress for Mexico at the World Cup would be reaching the quarter-finals after failing to advance from the Round of 16 in six successive editions.
Only when the Mexicans hosted the World Cup did they make the last eight – in 1970 and 1986.
Osorio, a former conditioning coach at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, won four league titles in Colombia and was managing Sao Paulo before taking over his first job as a national coach with Mexico in 2015.
Osorio’s success in Colombia, where he won the championship with Once Caldas and three more with Atletico Nacional, was based on the same tactical fluidity that he brought to Mexico.
Mexico’s biggest strength comes in their attack.
Hirving Lozano, who scored 16 goals last season for PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie league, and Carlos Vela, who joined Los Angeles FC from Real Sociedad last year, will provide attacking thrust from out wide.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez remains the main striker heading into the tournament, but Raul Jimenez had a strong season with Benfica and will be pushing the West Ham striker for a starting place.
Meanwhile, Rafa Marquez is aiming to play in his fifth edition of the tournament.
It’s been a difficult road to the World Cup for the central defender so far.
Last August, Marquez was among 22 people named on a sanctions list by the U.S. Treasury Department.
He was accused of acting as a frontman for the Raul Flores Hernandez drug trafficking organisation in the Mexican city of Guadalajara.
He denied any wrongdoing and vowed to clear his name.
39 year-old Marquez has played for Barcelona, Monaco and New York Red Bulls and is considered one of the biggest stars in Mexican football history.
Mexico open their Group F campaign against World Cup holders Germany on 17th June in Moscow.
It’s a short trip, with the Russian capital also hosting Mexico’s tournament base.
Then there’s a trip to Rostov-on-Don to face South Korea on 23rd June, followed by a 27th June meeting with Sweden in Yekaterinburg.