MEXICO HAVE QUALIFIED – NOW WHAT?
Heading into 2013, Mexico had plenty of momentum coming into a very busy year that included the Confederations Cup, World Cup qualifying, and the Gold Cup. After falling flat in both summer tournaments, El Tri limped through qualification, only making it by virtue of a playoff against New Zealand in November. Now that they have qualified, they must figure out how to get back on track in time for Brazil 2014, or their time at the World Cup will be very brief.
WORLD CUP PROSPECTS
Since qualifying for the World Cup, Miguel Herrera has been able to right the ship for El Tri. Using his 5-3-2 system, Mexico, have collected convincing wins against South Korea, Israel, and Ecuador. This wins have largely come on the back of players who ply their trade in Mexico and not Europe.
Mexico will most likely be fighting off Cameroon and Croatia in a likely battle for second place in a group that has the favorites, Brazil, in it.
A problem for Mexico is that they are relying upon two past their prime defenders to shore up their backline. Rafael Marquez and Maza will likely be two of the central defenders and both no longer have the requisite speed to keep up with some of the faster attackers in the group. Herrera will most likely be hoping to outscore opponents with his bevy of attacking options, minus Luis Montes who recently broke his leg against Ecuador.
If they are able to do this they may be able to get past the Round of 16 for the first time since 1986.
GROUP A SCHEDULE
STARS TO WATCH
Javier Hernández, F, Manchester United: The poster boy for Mexican soccer struggled for his country in 2013, but he still has shown he can pop up with key goals when needed. After bursting onto the scene at the 2010 World Cup, Mexico will be relying on Chicharito to return to that form this summer.
Oribe Peralta, F, Santos Laguna: Led Mexico in scoring during qualification, including a hat trick in the second leg of the playoff against New Zealand. Showed at the 2012 Olympics, where he scored in the gold medal match, that he can perform in the big occasion, and if he is healthy, could prove to be Mexico’s secret weapon in Brazil.
Giovani dos Santos, F, Villarreal: Like Hernandez, dos Santos struggled for his country in 2013, but when he is in form, he is clearly a difference maker for Mexico. Now that he has settled at a club in Spain and is getting regular minutes, he will play a big role for El Tri at the World Cup.
Miguel Herrera, hired on an interim basis in October 2013, was given a simple task: Win the intercontinental playoff and get Mexico to the World Cup. He did that successfully, defeating New Zealand by an aggregate score of 9-3 while using a squad completely composed of domestic-based players. He made waves by calling up mostly Club América players for the playoff, as he was familiar with them as coach of the team, but his gambit was ultimately successful.
Herrera’s temporary appointment capped off a tumultuous two months where four men coached Mexico in World Cup qualifiers. Now that he's been retained as coach for the World Cup itself, Herrera will be expected to not only prepare Mexico for the tournament, but also restore pride to a team that essentially fell at every hurdle in 2013.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 5-2-3, 11pts / 7 GF, 9 GA (fourth place in CONCACAF, winner of CONCACAF-Oceania playoff)
Mexico were nearly knocked out of the playoff spot in the final hexagonal round, but Graham Zusi’s late goal against Panama gave El Tri the reprieve to get them to the playoff against New Zealand. After winning just once against CONCACAF foes at the once-formidable Estadio Azteca, Mexico found their stride against the Kiwis with a commanding 5-1 win to all but seal the tie in the first leg. Altogether in 2013 qualifiers, Mexico won four games – two in the hexagonal along with both playoff matches.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
The Mexicans have qualified for their sixth consecutive World Cup, and 15th overall. They have been knocked out in the round of 16 in each of the last five trips, with their best showing all-time coming on home soil in both 1970 and 1986 (quarterfinals). They have never progressed past the group stage in a World Cup held in South America.
The USMNT went unbeaten in hexagonal play against Mexico in 2013, drawing 0-0 at the Azteca and winning 2-0 in Columbus … Mexico will have played six friendlies in the United States in 2014 by the time the World Cup starts, against South Korea (San Antonio), Nigeria (Atlanta), USA (Glendale, Ariz.), Ecuador (Arlington, TX), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Chicago), and Portugal (Foxborough, MA) … Former New York Red Bulls Designated Player Rafa Márquez was recalled by Herrera to the squad for the playoff, where he captained the national team and scored in the first leg against New Zealand … Current MLS players born in Mexico include Erick Torres (Chivas USA) and Carlos Salcedo (Real Salt Lake).