SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- The probability that Mexico will win Friday's World Cup qualifier against El Salvador at Estadio Cuascatlan is very high on paper, even with key attacking players Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona out of the match with injury.
Mexico's record against El Salvador is 30 wins, five losses and three draws and La Selecta hasn't won in any of coach Ramon "El Primitivo" Maradiaga's 11 games since he took over.
"There is no national team," is a phrase that seems to be on repeat if you ask fans in El Salvador about their side and ticket sales have been slow, with only around 8,000 sold as of Wednesday. The recent corruption scandal seems to have Salvadoran football on the ropes and fans fed up.
But we all know soccer isn't logical and even though Mexico has already qualified for the Hexagonal stage of World Cup qualifying, this is not a meaningless or simple game.
"Being qualified isn't a motive for the group to relax," stated Porto midfielder Hector Herrera on Thursday. "That doesn't go through our heads."
El Salvador has nothing to lose and Mexico is coming off a 7-0 loss to Chile in the quarterfinal of the Copa America Centenario, meaning there is intrigue about just how Osorio and his team will react.
And the atmosphere, even without a full stadium, will be intense. The quality may not be there from the Salvadoran point of view, but the standings in Group A mean La Selecta still has a chance of progressing to the defining Hexagonal stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and it is desperate to take advantage.
"We are standing in front of a great opportunity (of getting out the group)," said coach Maradiaga on Thursday, adding that El Salvador will be looking to be "aggressive" and "not make it comfortable for Mexico."
"You're going to let in seven!" shouted one fan as Guillermo Ochoa descended the team bus for training at Estadio Cuscatlan on Thursday. "Seven-zero!" screamed another. It is something that the Granada player better get used to from opposition fans.
But it isn't Ochoa who is the center of attention from the Mexican perspective against El Salvador. It is Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio. Fiercely criticized for his rotation policy and the manner of his team's capitulation against Chile, the critics have already begun sharpening their knives.
Osorio's response was to head to South America to philosophize with Marcelo Bielsa about the way forward, but Mexico fans care little for the juego de posicion and such ideals right now and a lot about restoring faith in El Tri. That requires results and Osorio knows he and his players need a good showing against El Salvador to help lift the gloom of the 7-0.
"More than the three points, this is a chance to re-vindicate ourselves with the fans," said Osorio in Thursday's press conference. "We have to pick ourselves up as quickly as possible (after the 7-0) and I hope to see a reaction. In training and meetings the combative spirit can be seen and if you add to that the quality, I think we'll have a good game."
It was the first time Osorio had spoken en masse to the press since he was forced to apologize to the Mexican people for the historic defeat to Chile. The former Atletico Nacional manager has kept a low profile since then, giving a couple of lengthy individual interviews, but mainly steering clear of the Mexican press core, which has at least been in part responsible for hounding out past head coaches.
"Trust" and "credibility" were two key words in Osorio's press conference, which had a positive and uplifting tone, just hours after El Tri great Cuauhtemoc Blanco had lambasted the current team for lacking character.
Herrera, however, thinks differently to "El Cuau," with the clear message being that the 7-0 was largely a blip on what has otherwise been a good start to Osorio's reign as Mexico manager.
"We have to keep that winners' mentality that the national team has and we have to show it on the pitch," said Herrera. "We have to show that we are a competitive country and I believe completely in my teammates, the coaching staff and the federation."
Nevertheless, it's a banana-skin type of game for Osorio and the team. Win and it will have been expected. Lose and the criticism will rain down from all quarters, making next Tuesday's match in Estadio Azteca against a tricky Honduras a pressure game.
The scorelines from Osorio's record in World Cup qualifiers reads 3-0, 2-0, 3-0 and 2-0 and it is unlikely that Mexico will be caught off-guard by El Salvador.
More than the result, even, Osorio needs to see that the players are still playing for him and vice-versa, which is why the squad is largely the same as the one that was defeated by Chile.
The absence of Hernandez paves the way for Raul Jimenez to start upfront, while there is intrigue as to how much playing time potential debutants Angel Sepulveda, Angel Zaldivar and Martin Barragan may get, although the bottom line, whoever plays, is that the team must return to Mexico City in the early hours of Saturday morning with the job well done.
The last two games between these two sides in the Estadio Cuscatlan ended 2-1, in 2009 in favor of El Salvador and three years later in favor of El Tri. It is unlikely to be easy or pretty for Mexico. But we will start to find out in a hostile stadium whether that bond between coaching staff and players is as water-tight as Osorio and Herrera suggest it is.
- ESPN FC got an opportunity to go inside Mexico's locker room ahead of the match and take the same walk out onto the pitch as the players will for the El Salvador game.
- Hirving Lozano is suspended for Friday's game and didn't make the trip to San Salvador. Diego Reyes will also miss the match after remaining in Europe to complete his move to Espanyol.
- Mexico's arrival at the team hotel in San Salvador was much lower key than the games in 2012 and 2009, according to locals. Only a handful of fans greeted El Tri, although "El Indio Cuscatlan" was present at Mexico training and predicting a 1-0 victory for El Salvador.
- El Salvador forward Nelson Bonilla called for home fans to back the team against Mexico, even with expectations low and the general mood around La Selecta largely negatively: "Don't believe in me, or some stars, believe in your country. We'll give our lives [against Mexico]."