INTERNATIONAL football fanatic Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) expects Mexico to see off an understrength Ireland side on Thursday night in New Jersey.
Mexico v Republic of Ireland | Friday 01:00 | Premier Sports
Republic of Ireland play the first of a triple-header of summer fixtures on Thursday night in New Jersey with an experimental squad travelling Stateside to take on Mexico in a friendly.
The trio of games culminates in a crucial World Cup qualifier against Austria a week later with some of the squad opting out of the trip to America, preferring to use the time to rest their weary bones following the end of their club seasons.
Boss Martin O’Neill has a plethora of centre-halves in his roster and is considering playing three at the back as opposed to his standard flat back-four. With Stephen Ward, Robbie Brady, Seamus Coleman and Ciaran Clark unavailable, Ireland’s defence will therefore have an unfamiliar feel.
O’Neill looks set to hand the captain’s arm band to James McClean for his 50th cap with a wing-back role potentially in the offing whilst Cyrus Christie should feature on the right-side with the Derby defender the only recognised full-back in the travelling party to the US.
Many of the Republic’s senior players will link up with the squad when they return ahead of Sunday’s international with Uruguay at the Aviva Stadium. In fact, the 19-man group heading for the MetLife Stadium on Thursday has just 16 international goals between them – eight of which were scored by McClean.
Just five of the travelling party have collected more than eight caps for Ireland so it’s understandable to see the Europeans chalked up at odds as big as 59/10 (Marathon) for this encounter.
Ireland’s lack of friendly fire
O’Neill doesn’t place a huge emphasis on friendly matches with the Boys In Green claiming just two victories in their last seven non-competitive outings (W2-D3-L2) whilst losing such encounters to Belarus and Iceland in the past year.
Go back to 2011 and the Republic’s nine friendly triumphs have arrived against Oman (x3), Bosnia, Poland, Switzerland, Georgia, Latvia and USA. Meanwhile, under O’Neill’s tutorship Ireland’s return in meaningless matches is W5-D6-L5.
Mexico aiming to bounce back
Mexico’s hectic summer began with an unexpected 2-1 reverse to Croatia in front of 62,000 fans in Los Angeles on Sunday. The country’s media were unimpressed with El Tri’s performance against a young and reserve Croatian squad, which brought only 16 players across for the match and none of their country’s stars.
The loss was only manager Juan Carlos Osorio's second with the Mexico national team (W16-D3-L2); a hugely impressive record when you consider the number of friendly matches the team plays with squads cobbled together thanks to matches falling outside international breaks.
And although Osorio sent out an XI that included youngsters such as Erick Gutierrez, there was enough plenty of experience in the side with regulars Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun, Diego Reyes, Hector Herrera, Hirving Lozano and Guillermo Ochoa all starting.
Osorio made three substitutes at half-time with his troops trailing 2-0 and saw a vast improvement after the interval but Mexico's goalkeeping coach was sent from the bench with tempers in the El Tri camp high after an underwhelming display in California.
Strong side expected
Mexico’s defence suffered a few issues at the back in the defeat too. Nestor Araujo suffered a broken hand whilst Gutierrez and Diego Reyes both made dreadful errors during an atrocious first-half. Veteran Rafa Benitez looks likely to return here with Osorio suggesting he’ll play a stronger side on Thursday.
We should therefore expect the likes of record-breaking goalscorer Javier Hernandez Carlos Vela, Jonathan dos Santos, Andres Guardado and Nestor Araujo to start in New Jersey, making El Tri fair 8/13 (Paddy Power) favourites.
Recent World Cup qualification victories over Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago have sent Mexico to the top of the of the “Hexagonal” standings for the first time in two cycles and the CONCACAF giants should be capable of landing a routine triumph here.
The betting angle
Since their humbling 7-0 thrashing by Chile at last summer’s Copa America, Osorio’s men have shipped just five goals in 10 games – that’s 15 hours of action – but with Ireland firing blanks in only three of their past 14 friendlies, I’ll leaving the win ‘to nil’ (7/5 BetVictor) alone.
Instead, back Mexico to win alongside Under 3.5 Goals. It’s a selection that’s provided profit in 15 of El Tri’s past 17 victories and 13 of Ireland’s losses since 2012 and covers a 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 success for the heavy pre-match favourites.
Mexico v Republic of Ireland – Mexico to win and Under 3.5 Goals (23/20 BetStars)