SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It was a loss that caught nearly everyone off guard, and it still causes El Tri supporters to shudder at its mention. Two summers ago, in front of a packed house at Levi’s Stadium, most wearing the green, red, and white of Mexico, their beloved national team was demolished 7-0 by Chile in a highly anticipated 2016 Copa América Centenario quarterfinal.
Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio strode the sideline that day for Mexico, and despite the lopsided loss, kept his job at the helm of a team that a year later would bounce back to top its CONCACAF World Cup qualifying group and book its ticket to Russia. Interesting sidenote: Chile, which would go on to win the Copa Final following its defeat of Mexico, failed to punch its own ticket to this summer’s World Cup and is the now the outsider looking in.
Osorio’s squad will face Iceland on Friday night in its return to Levi’s Stadium, again with a capacity crowd firmly behind it, and the spotlights turned on a little brighter with the World Cup on the horizon. The Mexico coach, when asked to reflect on the loss to Chile 20 months ago, spoke of the silver linings the result presented.
“If you ask me for my honest answer, I’m glad that it happened because I learned a lot from that loss,” Osorio said in a packed press conference just yards away from the Levi’s Stadium pitch. “I don’t know if the next time around we will be able to reverse the score, but we will be certainly prepared to stop the damage. It is a big loss in my career, but it happened and that’s life.”
Mexico will have the opportunity to provide some redemption for a Bay Area fan base that had to suffer through the Copa America disgrace, and perhaps they will be able to provide a glimpse of what they can do against a quality opponent that will also be playing in Russia this summer. Iceland may be the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup, but that doesn’t mean they will be pushovers for Mexico.
The Euro 2016 darlings hail from a country whose population would fit comfortably in five Levi’s Stadiums, but that does not mean they will be intimidated by the El Tri supporters’ presence. Instead, Iceland head coach Heimir Hallgrímsson, like his Mexican counterpart Osorio, is hoping his team will be tested on Friday night as a tune-up for the World Cup in June. He knows that Mexico will play much like Argentina, Iceland’s first opponent in the group stage of the tournament.
“What we will gain from playing against Mexico, they play a different style than the teams we are used to playing in Europe,” Hallgrímsson said earlier in the day in the same conference room, but in front of a decidedly smaller gaggle of reporters. “It is a more individual style, players that have really good individual skills and speed, so it will be a lot of one-v-ones for us. In my opinion, their strength is the speed of passing, the speed of movement, so it is a test for us. So those are the qualities in the Mexico team that we, hopefully, be able to prepare from.”
With the World Cup less than three months away, both coaches have a lot they can learn from Friday’s game, and though it is only a friendly, both teams will be looking to create momentum heading into the final stages of their tournament preparations.