CARSON, Calif. – Mexico’s drive to the Olympic Games has been relentless. And now, after three dominant showings in Group B, only Canada stand between them and a place in London this summer.
After a dominating performance in the group stage, El Tri are heavy favorites to defeat Canada in Saturday’s semifinal at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. (9 pm ET). Fully aware of Canada’s erratic form, head coach Luis Fernando Tena is refusing to let his side buy into its own hype for fear of suffering a shock defeat to the Canadians.
“I’m worried of course about Canada, we’re not overconfident in the least and we have to be alert,” Tena told reporters after Tuesday's victory over Panama at The Home Depot Center. “There’s a reason that Canada beat the United States and I think that speaks well. Their players have a good attitude and they showed their level, we’re going to see their same thing.”
HIGHLIGHTS: MEXICO 7, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO 1
Mexico's path through Olympic qualifying wasn’t always so assured, particularly after El Tri suffered a rude awakening after a 2-0 defeat to the US in a pre-tournament friendly last month. The embarrassing loss caused Tena to revamp his attack, promising larger roles for Guadalajara midfielder Marco Fabián and Tigres UANL forward Alan Pulido.
That approached worked wonders once the CONCACAF qualifying tournament began, as Mexico shot out of the gate. They overpowered Trinidad and Tobago 7-1 and Honduras 3-0 with Fabián and Pulido each tallying hat tricks.
El Tri continued their unyielding push towards London on Tuesday night when they squeaked by Panama 1-0 due to a late goal by Erick “Cubo” Torres. The victory allowed Mexico to end the group stage with an impressive 11 goals scored while goalkeeper Liborio Sánchez conceded just one over the three matches.
While Tena and his charges have dominated Group B, the Mexico boss instructed youth technical and tactical coordinator Juan Carlos Ortega to study all potential semifinal opponents. After the victory over Panama, Tena admitted Mexico will need to be wary of the physical style Canada displayed in their shocking 2-0 victory over the United States last Saturday.
Although the job is by no means complete, Tena also admits that spirits are high as Mexico look to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 2004.
“We’re doing well,” said Tena. “We solidified our team and we’re going to arrive at Saturday’s game playing well. We got to see the players that haven’t played as much and fortunately we were able to win at the end, which is obviously important for us.”
Calderón's availability in doubt
Tena told reporters after his squad’s victory over Panama that midfielder Néster Calderón was injured last Friday during the late stages of Mexico’s 7-1 thumping of Trinidad. Calderón’s injury occurred when his foot collided with the head of T&T goalkeeper Andre Marchan.
Tena has been open about Calderón’s injury, but the Mexico boss did not close the door on the Toluca winger making his return to the field during the semifinals.
“He’s not OK, he wasn’t ready to play [on Tuesday] and it’s going to be very difficult for him to play on Saturday,” Tena said in his postgame press conference. “He wants to be there and we want him to be ready. He’s working and the doctors are working with him, morning and at night so there is a 50 percent chance that he’ll be available for Saturday.”