Who says CONCACAF is weak?
Fresh off Costa Rica’s stunning run to the knockout round, Mexico followed suit with a 3-1 victory over Croatia on Monday that secured a second-place finish in Group A and a trip to the Round of 16 for El Tri.
Teams from CONCACAF are currently 5-2-2 in the World Cup, and the US are in position to become the third team from the region to make the Round of 16 on Thursday.
“The thing is, all the people think that CONCACAF is easy,” Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández said in a postgame interview with ESPN’s John Sutcliffe. “And you see first of the group to Costa Rica [and] United States almost getting through. Honduras, I know it’s a little bit harder in getting through, [but] CONCACAF is there.”
Mexico’s performance in Brazil is solid proof that CONCACAF is perhaps underrated on the world stage.
As American fans know all too well, El Tri would not even be in the World Cup if not for a late goal from Graham Zusi against Panama during World Cup qualifying. But despite squeaking ahead of Panama and finishing fourth in the hexagonal – which allowed them to qualify for the World Cup by virtue of an intercontinental playoff triumph over New Zealand – Mexico suddenly look like world-beaters in Brazil.
Heading into the knockout round, head coach Miguel Herrera’s side has allowed just one goal and battled World Cup favorite and host Brazil to a draw.
“We are growing up,” said Hernández, who iced the win over Croatia with his first goal for Mexico in 11 matches. “There’s a lot of CONCACAF players playing in Europe and that helps a lot.”
Now the question is if Mexico can keep the CONCACAF magic going and beat a very strong Netherlands team in the next round Sunday (noon ET, ESPN/Univision in US, CBC in Canada).
But before they worry about picking off their next European power, El Tri plan on enjoying Monday’s win over Croatia first.
“Thankfully, we got through,” Hernández said. “Today we’re going to celebrate a little bit, to enjoy this victory against one of the best national teams in Europe. So we need to enjoy it and, after a day off tomorrow, we’re going to think of the team we are going to play.”