2014 World Cup Group A team previews: Mexico
Mexico head for their 15th World Cup looking to break the second round barrier on foreign soil for the first time although their poor qualifying campaign suggests the odds are heavily stacked against them.
The only times Mexico have reached the quarter-finals were when they hosted the finals in 1970 and 1986, the latter a 24-team tournament in which they were unbeaten in five matches, going out to Germany on penalties.
Coach Miguel Herrera, however, will travel to Brazil believing his team can spring a shock by reaching at least the quarter-finals and possibly even go further.
“If you don’t start each tournament thinking of being champions then you don’t have ambition,” Herrera said.
“We know it’s hard – history or what has happened to my predecessors who haven’t even reached the fifth match – can back up my words.”
It is surprising that Mexico have failed to live up to expectations at the World Cup given the football-crazy country of 100 million has one of the richest domestic leagues in the world.
The national team, however, have failed to reach the last eight in the last five tournaments they have competed in since missing out altogether at Italia ’90, the last time they failed to compete.
Their path to Brazil was one of the poorest of their rich history as they failed to take advantage of the seething cauldron of their Azteca stadium and lost three coaches in a six-week period.
Mexico finished fourth in the Concacaf (Confederation of North and Central America and the Caribbean) qualifying final round, behind automatic qualifiers the United States, Costa Rica and Honduras, earning a place in the intercontinental play-off with New Zealand – and only after the US had recorded a last gasp win over Panama on the final match day.
Herrera was handed control for the two-legged play-off against the Oceania champions, who they crushed 9-3 on aggregate to grab one of the last tickets to the finals.
Their fraught path to the finals is hardly a good omen for success in Brazil, though Herrera, who was appointed to take the team through to the finals, remains upbeat.
“The national team are in debt to their fans, every day we try to get results to reduce that debt and it will be paid off at the World Cup,” the confident Herrera said.
“The minimum demand the [Mexican] federation is making is to reach the famous fifth match but I say that if we reach the quarter-finals why not think we can go further.”
Mexico, however, are in the tough Group A in which they open against Cameroon on June 13 in Natal, then clash with hosts and favourites Brazil in Fortaleza four days later before facing Croatia in Recife on June 23.
“We’re going to qualify for the last 16. The next stage could be very tough, maybe tougher than the group,” Herrera said referring to a potential meeting with holders Spain, the Netherlands or Chile from Group B which also includes Australia.
“The four teams that can lift the trophy are Brazil, Spain, Argentina and Germany,” Herrera added.
“The dark horses could be Belgium because they look solid, but the biggest surprise will come from Mexico,” he predicted with a deadly serious expression on his face.
Five to watch:
Rafael Marquez, defender (Leon); Age 35; 120 caps. Going to his fourth finals in a row and second as captain, the former Monaco, Barcelona and New York Red Bulls centre-back can also play as holding midfielder. Has enjoyed career revival back home at Leon helping them win this season’s Apertura (opening) league title in December. Became the first Mexican to earn a European Champions League winner’s medal with Barca in 2008. Has excellent positioning and plays fine through-balls.
Andres Guardado, midfielder (Bayer Leverkusen); Age 27; 99 caps. Fast left-winger and good crosser nicknamed “Principito” (Little Prince). Going to third finals, has played club football in Europe since 2007 at Deportivo La Coruna and Valencia before going to Germany this year on loan at Bayer Leverkusen.
Hector Herrera, midfielder (Porto); Age 24; 10 caps. Busy central midfielder from border town Tijuana who has been called “Zorrillo” (Skunk) and “Zorro” (Fox). Was voted best player at Toulon youth tournament in 2012 and went on to help Mexico win gold at Olympics in London. Went into Champions League record books for earning two yellow cards and a sending-off in 20 seconds during a match at Zenit Saint-Petersburg last year
Javier Hernandez, striker (Manchester United); Age 25; 57 caps. Comes from family with rich footballing heritage - grandfather and father played for Mexico. Earned nickname “Little Pea” after his father who was known as “Chicharo” for his green eyes. United striker is going to his second finals as Mexico’s third highest scorer of all time with 35 goals, after Jared Borgetti (46) and Cuauhtemoc Blanco (39). Has seen limited action for troubled United this season.
Giovani Dos Santos, striker (Villarreal)l; Age 24; 71 caps. Much-travelled, skilful and diminutive forward born in Monterrey to a Brazilian footballer father. Is a product of Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy and Under-17 World Cup winner with Mexico. Has had experience in England for Tottenham Hotspur and Ipswich Town, Galatasaray in Turkey and Racing Santander and Real Mallorca in Spain. Career has been disrupted by injuries but he won Olympic gold in 2012.
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Published: May 20, 2014 04:00 AM