Great expectations for Mexico's golden generation
(Reuters) - Mexico strolled through qualification for Russia but now the pressure will mount on coach Juan Carlos Osorio and his players to deliver on the huge expectations of the country's passionate fans.
The solitary defeat in the final qualifying stage came in the last round against Honduras, with El Tri already long assured of top spot, in contrast to their toils four years ago.
But having made the last 16 at every World Cup since 1994, Osorio knows he has to get the very best out of his squad if Mexico are to advance beyond that stage for the first time since their 1986 home run to the quarter-finals.
Luckily for the Colombian coach, he has arguably the most talented collection of players the country has ever been able to choose from.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, the country's all-time top scorer with 49 goals from 100 games, remains hugely popular but is by no means guaranteed to start, given the range of options in attack.
Carlos Vela, of Real Sociedad, America's Oribe Peralta and Benfica target man Raul Jimenez are among the choices available to Osorio in attack as well as one of the stars from Brazil - the inconsistent but undeniably talented Giovani dos Santos.
In keeping with Mexican football tradition there are plenty of options out wide with Javier Aquino, Juergen Damm, Andres Guardado and PSV Eindhoven's 22-year-old electrifyingly quick winger Hirving Lozano all talented options on the flanks.
The midfield area lacks a dominant enforcer and Osorio will be hoping that Hector Herrera's resurgence of form at Porto will continue, with a central partnership with Jonathan dos Santos offering a stable base for the typically attacking line-up.
At the back, 20-year-old Edson Alvarez has quickly impressed and Porto fullback Miguel Layun is a strong presence, but the future of veteran Rafa Marquez remains unclear.
Marquez, 38, was hoping to captain his country for a record fifth straight World Cup, but his involvement is in doubt after a designation in August by the U.S. government that the former Barcelona player was linked to a suspected drug trafficker.
(Reporting by Simon Evans,; Editing by Neville Dalton)