CHICAGO — Despite having already secured a spot in the quarterfinals after two straight 5-0 routs against El Salvador and Cuba, Mexico say they’re approaching the match against Costa Rica with as much focus as they did their previous two opponents.
“When we played against El Salvador, that was the most important game,” said golden boy Javier “Chicharito” Hernández on Saturday. “The same thing with Cuba. That’s why [on Sunday], our most important match will be against Costa Rica. We don’t see one rival as more or less difficult than another. We just have to do things the right way.”
Tri head coach José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, who remains undefeated in his tenure as Mexico boss, echoed his young striker’s comments.
“We’re approaching this game the same way we did the previous ones, with all the respect deserved and just as focused as we must be to win,” he said.
The Aztecs are just days removed from a doping scandal involving five of their players, including starters Guillermo Ochoa and Francisco Rodríguez. All five were suspended after results from internal tests conducted on May 21 came back positive for a banned substance.
On the other end of the pitch on Sunday will be a man who, aside from having intimate knowledge of Mexican soccer, has had his fair share of controversy as well.
At the helm of Costa Rica will be Ricardo La Volpe. The Argentine tactician, who managed Mexico from 2002-06 and constantly clashed with Mexican media during his tenure, had El Tri playing some of their most attractive brand of soccer under his lead.
But the fact that an old friend of the Green, White and Red will be on the Tico bench in Chicago doesn’t mean much to the current Tri coach or his charges.
“The fact that we know each other, well, it ends there,” said de la Torre, who has coached against La Volpe in the Mexican Primera División. “I’m not facing off against Ricardo — the Mexican national team is going up against Costa Rica’s.”
For Hernández, the history between La Volpe and the Mexican national team doesn’t matter. What matters is the upcoming tilt.
“We know he’s a good coach that did good things [with El Tri],” said the Manchester United forward, “but we’ll see how Costa Rica stand on the pitch and how we’ll have to go about playing them, which is the only thing we’re interested in.”
Should Mexico tie or defeat Costa Rica, they’ll finish on top of Group A and will take on the top third-place finisher between groups B and C, which, should logic prevail, would give them a better shot at reaching the semifinal stage of the Gold Cup. A loss, however, and El Tri will face Group B's runner-up.
“We’re motivated,” said midfielder Pablo Barrera. “We’re looking to keep our pace and get another win. We know this match will be different. It’ll be a good game, but we’ll have to work, we’ll have to do things right and look for the result.”