Mexico arrive in Ohio for Tuesday’s crucial 2014 World Cup qualifier against the United States in turmoil, with Luis Fernando Tena tasked with getting them back on the road to the finals in Brazil.
Tena inherited the manager’s job after Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre was ruthlessly sacked, hours after an embarrassing 2-1 defeat by Honduras on Friday at Azteca Stadium, where Mexico once dominated all comers.
With the defeat, Mexico dropped to fourth in the CONCACAF six-nation final qualifying group with only the top three teams earning automatic berths at next year’s showpiece event.
The fourth-placed team will play New Zealand for a spot, and Panama are just one point behind Mexico in fifth with three matches remaining.
Tena, an experienced assistant to de la Torre, acknowledged the seriousness of the situation, and voiced faith in his players.
Mexico are the reigning Olympic champions and 13-time World Cup participants, and haven’t missed the finals since 1990.
Stars like Gio dos Santos and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez will have to dig deep in what is sure to be a hostile environment in Columbus.
“It’s a great responsibility to take on,” said Tena, who has officially been given the helm only through Tuesday, with federation officials declining to say if he will be in charge for the decisive October contests against Panama and Costa Rica.
“Obviously it’s not the best circumstances in which to take over the team.”
Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA are coming off a setback of their own, a 3-1 defeat in Costa Rica on Friday that ended their 12-match winning streak.
The victory pushed Costa Rica to the top of the table on 14 points, one more than the United States, whose qualification was at least postponed.
They’ll try to bounce back without the scoring firepower from Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and Michael Bradley.
Altidore, Besler and Cameron received second yellow cards in San Jose on Friday and will serve one match suspensions, while key midfielder Bradley has been ruled out after spraining his left ankle in pre-match warm-ups in Costa Rica.
On Saturday, Klinsmann added four players to his squad: Club Tijuana midfielder Joe Corona, Houston Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis, San Jose Earthquakes defender Clarence Goodson and Tigres midfielder Jose Torres.
But the German said the defeat in Costa Rica didn’t change his approach to the match against arch-rivals Mexico.
“We knew if we lost this game that Costa Rica would be in first place,” Klinsmann said. “We know that it’s going to go down to the wire and the last games. We need to have our four points at least to qualify. We will get those four points.”
Costa Rica will try to consolidate their position when they visit Jamaica, who have yet to win a match and have three points from three draws.
Honduras – who jumped to third on 10 points, three behind the United States and two ahead of Mexico – with their triumph in Mexico City, host Panama.
The Panamanians, in fifth on seven points, missed a golden opportunity on Friday when they were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Jamaica despite playing against ten men for the final 30 minutes.
Jamaica v Costa Rica 8 p.m.
At Columbus, Ohio
United States v Mexico 8 p.m.
Honduras v Panama 9 p.m.
Concacaf Standings (W-L-D; 3 matches remain)
Costa Rica 4-1-2 14 points
United States 4-2-1 13 points
Honduras 3-3-1 10 points
Mexico 1-1-5 8 points
Panama 1-2-4 7 points
Jamaica 0-4-3 3 points
(Top 3 teams advance to World Cup; 4th team plays New Zealand for berth)