Luis Bueno
Friday February 26th, 2010

Mexico will open the World Cup against South Africa on June 11 in its most important game in four years, and each match El Tricolor goes on to play in the tournament will only increase in significance.

But arguably Mexico's most important game before then will be next Wednesday's friendly against New Zealand at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

On the lone international fixture date before the World Cup (which means clubs must release players to the national team), Mexico coach Javier Aguirre called up a strong roster that could be a preview of what he'll take to South Africa. It's the first chance for this particular group to get together and play with only the World Cup in mind. The time is now to begin learning one another's tendencies while playing the way Aguirre wants.

Aguirre did not leave much behind in terms of roster choices. The squad features nine players based in Europe, including likely World Cup starters Carlos Salcido and Rafael Márquez, as well as talented youngsters Carlos Vela and brothers Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos.

Combined with domestic players Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Gerardo Torrado, as well as exciting youngster Javier Hernández, Aguirre's squad is a mouth-watering mix of veteran experience and budding young talent.

Giovani Dos Santos and Vela were part of the squad that won the 2005 Under-17 World Cup, and while their maturation is far from complete, the two will now get another opportunity to show their worth. If they are going to do damage in South Africa, seeing them work their magic soon is important.

Hernández, though, might be the player most worth watching. Through just seven weeks of the Bicentenario season, the 21-year-old Hernandez has scored eight goals for Chivas, tops in the league. On Wednesday, in only his second game with the national team, Hernández scored twice in the first 20 minutes of a 5-0 victory against Bolivia.

Seeing Vela, Hernández and Giovani Dos Santos on the field at the same time might be something Tri fans would enjoy, but such a trio is a bit too much youth and not enough experience, particularly if the other Dos Santos is thrown into the mix as well. But these friendlies are made for situations like that, to test and try out formations, tactics and lineups.

Aguirre could add five names to next Wednesday's roster and call his World Cup player search over. After all, the 18 on the list, along with Guillermo Ochoa, Jonny Magallón, Pablo Barrera, Miguel Sabah and Guillermo Franco, wouldn't be a bad team to take to the World Cup.

It's possible Aguirre has decided on most of his squad, and the other friendlies on Tri's schedule prior to finalizing the roster are designed to generate more revenue for the Mexican Football Federation and take the team to its fans before the World Cup. But tryouts have been ongoing since Aguirre took the job, and this last batch of games might be to merely ensure that Aguirre does not overlook anyone.

While a prime squad is in place to play a fellow World Cup participant at the Rose Bowl, it feels as if this game is a bit of a missed opportunity. Being the one and only international fixture date, Mexico could have attempted to look for a much stronger opponent to play on the road.

Now, Mexico has lined up a friendly against the Netherlands and could also play Italy and England, all on European soil, and all before the World Cup. Fellow CONCACAF nations are taking their shows on the road next week as the U.S. is at the Netherlands and Honduras at Turkey.

Playing strong European nations is something that typically only happens on Mexico's turf, and no European team would come play a World Cup tune-up there. Mexico went for the more comfortable match, against a weaker opponent in front of a friendly crowd that will likely exceed 40,000 or 50,000 and bring in a decent payday.

If Mexico did not plan to play some behemoths in May, opting for a game in Southern California over Europe would have been a glaring mistake instead of just a missed chance. Still, having the bulk of the World Cup squad begin its task of growing together as a team against a top-notch opponent could have been memorable as well.

As it stands, a New Zealand team not expected to do much at the World Cup will have to do.

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