Mexico centre back Diego Reyes has withdrawn from the World Cup with a hamstring injury, leaving Mexico boss Juan Carlos Osorio with a number of decisions to make.
The defender picked up the injury in Porto’s second to last league game of the season against Feirense, and has been unable to recover in time to play in the World Cup.
It had kept him out of the warm-up games against Wales, Scotland, and Denmark, but the 25-year-old was included in the 23-man squad in the hope he would recover in time. Unfortunately for the player and his team, it wasn’t to be.
"Today, along with the coaching staff, I've decided to make a decision that hurts my soul," said Reyes in a statement.
"I think it's the best for my teammates because I'm not sure I can achieve the best version of myself in such little time. That's why I've decided, along with Juan Carlos Osorio, that I won't make up part of the 23 players who will fight for the World Cup."
Pachuca midfielder Erick Gutiérrez has been called up in his place, and it’s interesting that Osorio has called up a midfielder to replace Reyes who would probably have started at centre back.
The Mexican Football Federation released a short statement confirming the change:
“Diego Reyes wasn’t able to satisfactorily complete his recovery. The relevant process will be carried out before FIFA to register Erick Gutierrez in his place.”
The disruption means that Carlos Salcedo could shift inside from right-back to centre-back, and 20-year-old Edson Álvarez could take his place on the right of a back four.
The inclusion of the young Club América full-back in the starting lineup is likely to excite Mexico fans, and though Reyes may have been a starter, they will hope that this particular cloud has a tricolor lining.
The versatile Miguel Layún could also do a job at right-back if required, but Álvarez is likely to start there in the high profile opening game against Germany at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow — the venue which will host the final.
Another right-sided centre-back, Néstor Araujo, had to withdraw from the squad before the tournament, and this has also affected the defensive plans.
The Sportsman spoke to Mexico supporter Armando Angulo, who believes Reyes’ injury leaves the backline looking threadbare.
“Diego [Reyes] being out is huge. He’s definitely a player that Osorio trusts, whether at right-centre-back or in defensive midfield,” said Angulo.
“Along with the injury to Araujo, who was previously the first choice centre-back, this injury will be even tougher to swallow for an already thin backline.”
Angulo also believes that these injury problems could provide a chance for two exciting young players.
“It seems we will either be playing Rafa [Márquez] extensively, or we will see Salcedo shift from the right to the centre. This will probably force Edson Álvarez to get a big chunk of minutes. Huge for the 20-year-old.
“On the other side of the coin, this is a big opportunity for Érick Gutiérrez. I think if given an opportunity, he will be a pleasant surprise for Mexico.”
Regardless of the positives, it’s not the kind of disruption Mexico need as they look to qualify from their group for the seventh World Cup in a row.
If they’re to do so, their re-arranged back line will have to hold up against Sweden and South Korea, as well as in that opening game against Germany.
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