With Mexico targeting unprecedented success at 2026 World Cup, U21s falter at CAC games

MEXICO CITY -- If the Mexican Football Federation's plan was to have its national side reaching places it had never been before in the World Cup in eight years' time, those ambitions suffered a huge setback Wednesday: an early elimination at the Central American and Caribbean Games for a generation called upon to write that history.

Mexican Football Federation president Yon de Luisa and his staff presented on Wednesday some of their ideas for the near future, the most noteworthy being the intention that, in the 2026 World Cup hosted by Mexico, the United States and Canada, Mexico could present "the best national team possible" in order to get to a place they have never been before.

"Our responsibility of presenting the best national side possible in a World Cup being hosted in our country starts today," De Luisa said during his first exchange with the media in the Mexican Football Federation's headquarters.

On that same day, ironically, the under-21 version of El Tri was prematurely eliminated in a competition Mexico is used to winning. This is a team which has prepared itself for years for a slow and steady climb to the top when its players make it to the senior team. It is a huge setback, suffered just hours after top executives insisted that they trust these young players to write a different story in Mexican football when Mexico prepares to host football's highest competition.

"These players who are now between 16 and 24 years old are the same which are our top bets for the 2026 World Cup. We are fortunate enough to host that World Cup alongside two other countries, and this could help us a lot in order to keep developing football in Mexico, not just when it comes to our national team. It will also help when it comes to our league and planning for 2026," said Guillermo Cantu, sporting director general of the Mexican Football Federation.

The FMF's idea is to create a huge developing and monitoring process, never seen before in Mexico, in addition to the process that is already underway. They certainly want to avoid dealing with lost generations, as was the case with the U17 world champion teams of 2005 and 2011. These triumphant teams became such a wasted effort that only three of its players represented Mexico at the latest World Cup in Russia. Out of a group of 40 champions, only Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela and Hector Moreno were able to evolve to higher levels. Those are the mistakes Mexico wants to learn from and avoid repeating.

Who would you trust?

Wednesday's loss was suffered by a side put together in a matter of weeks. In June, that same generation of players advanced to the final match of the Maurice Revello Tournament (previously named Toulon Tournament). However, it happened with a very different roster, led by names such as Jonathan Gonzalez, Cesar Montes and Uriel Antuna, among others. None of them attended the CAC Games in Barranquilla, Colombia.

However, there's a larger issue. Out of the 14 players which faced Haiti in the decisive match to advance to the final stage, seven already have some Liga Bancomer experience in their resumés, and that wasn't even enough. Among the "experienced" players in Liga MX we find names such as Diego Lainez, Paolo Yrizar or Ronaldo Cisneros. None of them were able to change course throughout the CAC tournament which resulted in a disaster for the Mexican side.

The result in Barranquilla, obviously, did not sit well with the Mexican Federation. Its brass were not expecting such an early return home, and even less so at the hands hands of group-stage rivals Venezuela, El Salvador and Haiti, all of whom had far less preparation and development invested in them leading up to the tournament.

It is clear that the main objective for de Luisa and his staff is the 2026 World Cup. That is the main concern from now on at the Mexican Football Federation. The organization's new boss made it clear in his first meeting with the media.

Right at the Federation's offices, the message has been well understood, and that tournament has become the main focus starting now. There is already a working plan of developing players and there is a search for the right project led by a manager who will deal with a cycle consisting of two World Cups.

The expectations are that there will be a uniform way of doing things and full respect for an eight-year-long process, while the younger players excel, as it has been the case in the past. However, those lofty goals suffered a crash in Barranquilla, right at the heart of the Colombian coast.

"We don't want a strategy which will start in 2023. Instead, we want a plan in place starting today," de Luisa insisted in his statements.

"Our responsibility of having the best national side possible, playing a World Cup hosted in our country starts today. We don't want a strategy which will start in 2023. Instead, we want a plan in place starting today. It is a mandate for the sporting directors, starting with Dennis [Te Kloese] and Gerardo [Torrado]. It is a responsibility that falls upon us and there will be a series of decisions made starting right now, with the idea of monitoring possible candidates for becoming our representatives to form the best national side possible," de Luisa insisted during the conference.

El Tri has a clear goal in place. In eight years' time, Mexico wants to transcend in the World Cup in a way it has never done before. It is a plan for the near future, looking to seize upon the advantage of hosting the tournament on home soil. There is a lot of work to be done. However, the first step back was experienced eight years before the date.