Getting to know...Mexico: The Mexicans come into this World Cup having learned a valuable lesson during qualifying: no World Cup place is guaranteed. El Tri needed a pair of American goals against Panama in stoppage time of the final week of CONCACAF qualifying plus a playoff win over New Zealand to secure their place in Brazil, and now they will be hoping to make the most of their second chance. On their fourth manager of the last 10 months, Mexico has their work cut out for them to make their sixth World Cup in a row a memorable one.
Record in qualifying: Mexico qualified by the hair of their chinny chin chin, in fourth place in the CONCACAF table. They were dead in the water, in fifth below Panama before the US got two goals in injury time to secure a 3-2 win, giving Mexico new life. They then went and trounced New Zealand in the playoff with the AFC qualifier, meaning El Tri would be going to Brazil.
What group are they in? Miguel Herrera and company will need to navigate a difficult and star-studded Group A that features players from the top club teams in the world. Hosts Brazil are heavy favorites to win the entire tournament, while Croatia features plenty of top-level experience and Cameroon boasts an insanely experienced squad headed by Samuel Eto’o. It will take all Mexico has to make it out of the group stage, and then some.
Game Schedule: Group A.
13 June, 12:00 ET, Natal - Mexico vs. Cameroon
17 June, 15:00 ET, Fortaleza - Brazil vs. Mexico
23 June, 16:00 ET, Recife - Croatia vs. Mexcio
Star Player: Javier Hernandez
Mexico often go as Chicharito does, and when he struggled for consistency during CONCACAF qualification, so did Mexico’s attack. El Tri scored five goals over their last seven qualifying matches, with none of them scored by Hernandez, and the team won a total of two of those seven matches, losing three of their last four. With his club situation also in turmoil, this tournament is a big moment for Chicharito in his career, and could be a chance to prove not only that his country’s struggles are short-lived, but also that he has a lot to offer anyone that would want to sign him. However, with the Manchester United striker the country’s biggest name outside its borders, he may not even start, with Oribe Peralta making a name for himself in qualifying. With El Tri in a period of confusion, it will be interesting to see how Miguel Herrera handles one of his country’s most coveted players.
Manager: Miguel Herrera
Herrera is in the uneasy position of securing a job that has seen three others come and go in the last 10 months. As far as job security goes, that’s about as bad as it gets. But Herrera passed his first test, dispatching of New Zealand in the qualification playoff with ease, and now the Club America manager sets his eyes on a much bigger prize. Thankfully for Herrera, he’s been in this position before. He gave himself a six-month ultimatum when taking the job at Club America, and it paid off as they made the 2012 Clausura semifinals before winning it the following year. Not known for coddling established players, Herrera does what he believes is right and runs with it, so expect him to pull out all the stops as Mexico looks to bust through a difficult Group A.
Secret weapon: Physicality
With the team not scoring many goals over its qualifying run, they instead relied on a solid defense and a heavy-hitting midfield to pin back opposing attacks. It worked, and Herrera bringing back 35-year-old defender Rafa Marquez appeared to be a very smart play. However, this style of play can occasionally lead to some pretty ugly mistakes that top teams in the World Cup won’t hesitate to take advantage of. Herrera will hope his side can continue its ability to chop down attacks before they start without opening up gaping holes in the process.
Prediction: Much like the United States, if Mexico fails to secure all three points from its African opponents in the first match, it’s all but over for them. If they can get by Cameroon unscathed, their match with Brazil can be considered a throwaway if they wish to pin all their hopes on a matchup with Croatia. For a squad that has been eliminated in the Round of 16 each of the past two World Cups, even if they make it out of Group A, a draw with Spain or the Netherlands appears likely. Good luck. It’s hard to see them even getting that far.