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Spotlight again on Osorio's rotations in Mexico's win over New Zealand

SOCHI, Russia - The message was stark and clear: Juan Carlos Osorio is not for turning, and Mexico's national team players are behind him. Social media and the Mexican press were fierce in criticising Osorio's side on Wednesday after they scraped past New Zealand 2-1 in their second Group A match at the Confederations Cup.

"Osorio out" was trending in Mexico during the match, and afterward the headlines were all negative. It was all about the "scare," Osorio changing eight players and the manager mouthing some colorful words to the New Zealand bench.

It was a difficult night for Osorio, who apologized for his uncharacteristic outburst. But the evening in Fisht Stadium was also one in which he reaffirmed a staunch belief in his rotation policy and emphasised that his changed system to confront New Zealand's aerial threat came about because of a historical problem El Tri has had with direct teams.

Asked if he thought Mexico was made to suffer for the victory, Osorio replied in the negative.

"I don't see it like that," he said in the news conference after the game. "Today was about playing with a fresh team against a side that plays a very different game than Portugal."

"We controlled [New Zealand], we competed very well and in the end we won."

The Colombian is an outlier in world football. His rotation policy may have been influenced during his time in England watching Sir Alex Ferguson and Gerard Houllier, but whether such radical switches in personnel during short international tournaments can work is yet to be fully seen.

It's a question that was asked in the Copa America Centenario one year ago, when Mexico played well in defeating Uruguay in their opening game, but then were less than impressive against Jamaica and Venezuela and concluded with a spectacular crumble against Chile.

Wednesday's match told us that a year on, Osorio still believes in his methods. There are three principal reasons behind the changes: to keep players fresh, to create competition for places and to combat the specific threats an opponent may pose.

Against New Zealand, the threat was in the air and from direct football, leading Osorio to strengthen the defence with a back line of three center-backs, with Diego Reyes (also known predominantly as a center-back) in front.

The wider debate is around whether Mexico needs to overly concern itself with the perceived strengths of FIFA's 95th-placed team. Osorio is an outwardly attacking manager and his team usually dominates possession and seeks to attack down the wings, but there is a pragmatic streak too, and therein lies the problem the Colombian has in getting his message across to the public.

Crucially, it seems the players have fully bought into Osorio's methods and philosophy. Captain and squad leader Rafa Marquez -- who entered the field for 22 minutes against New Zealand -- said the players are "totally" behind Osorio and that they don't see the rotations as a negative.

"I don't think it is [difficult to adapt to rotations] because all of us in the national team are good enough to play," said the former Barcelona defender when asked by ESPN FC. Mexico's man of the match was Javier Aquino, and the Tigres winger also was adamant that fans should be patient and trust Osorio.

"Mainly they should be a little more relaxed," said Aquino. "We are relaxed here with the way we work. The manager lets us know very clearly what he wants. ... It's not a surprise that he's rotated today. He evaluates a lot of things before a game and we are very relaxed."

"We are 100 percent behind his philosophy," added winger Jurgen Damm.

Some decisions, though, certainly weren't easy to understand. There was no obvious ball-playing defender among the four defensive players selected; the other six outfield players were overtly attacking. And then fielding both Oribe Peralta and Raul Jimenez up front appeared to make the team slightly static in the final third, even if both did score against the All Whites.

But the Colombian sees the glass half full. Mexico sits atop Group A and with a good chance of getting a result against Russia on Saturday to advance to the semifinals. El Tri is also very comfortable in World Cup qualifying.

"I think that we have a very good national team and that we are taking that [next] step," said Osorio. "We are becoming a group that increasingly deserves to win, which competes with different opponents and playing styles and wins games."

And let's not forget the likes of Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado, Carlos Vela, Hirving Lozano and Miguel Layun will be fully rested for what was always likely to be a crunch match against the host nation. Wednesday's game wasn't pretty and Osorio's decisions aren't always the easiest to understand, but he maintains the support of the players and deserves the benefit of the doubt.