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Can Sanchez survive until the World Cup?
Mexico make a rare visit to Europe when they face Ghana at Craven Cottage on Wednesday in what could be their last game under coach Hugo Sanchez.
The former Real Madrid striker is widely regarded as the finest player Mexico has produced and seemed the obvious choice to replace Ricardo La Volpe following the 2006 World Cup.
Sanchez had been lobbying for the job for a long time, brashly promising to win the World Cup and claiming that his winning mentality would rub off on a team long been regarded as underachievers.
Yet, barely 18 months after taking over, Sanchez’s job is on the line. Defeat against the United States in last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup final went down very badly, especially after Mexico also lost to Honduras in the group stage and struggled to 1-0 wins over Panama and Guadeloupe in the same tournament.
Things looked much better in the Copa America shortly afterwards as Mexico beat Brazil 2-0 in the group stage and thumped Paraguay 6-0 in the last eight before going down to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina in the semi-finals.
But last week’s failure of the under-23 team, which Sanchez also coaches, to qualify for the Olympic Games has put him firmly back in the firing line.
On the plus side, Sanchez has secured the services of Nery Castillo and Giovani dos Santos when other national teams had been after after them.
But critics say his 4-4-2 system is too predictable and he does not have the tactical know-how to change the course of the game with substitutions.
The under-23 team were in poor physical shape and their preparations for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers in the United States took them to no fewer than five cities in the U.S. and Mexico.
Sanchez is also criticised for refusing to recognise his mistakes and for what some see as a failure to practice what he preaches. Before taking over as Mexico coach, he had complained about the team playing too many friendlies in the United States — but this has continued under his leadership with games in Phoenix, San Diego, Oakland, Denver, Los Angeles and Houston. The Ghana game will be the first time Mexico have ventured outside the Americas under him.
And, having criticised La Volpe for fielding naturalised players, he has done the same thing himself.
As a club coach, Sanchez won back to back Mexican championships with Pumas UNAM in 2004. But, when they lost form the following year, he was unable to halt the decline and was eventually fired.
The Mexican FA’s national teams committee is due to meet on March 31 to discuss Sanchez’s future. Should they allow him to carry on?
FILE PHOTO: Hugo Sanchez gestures during Mexico’s Copa America game against Argentina, July 11, 2007. REUTERS/Jorge Silva