VANCOUVER, B.C. — It's a very big week for Mexican soccer.
Wednesday is decision day, when everyone finds out if the United bid by Mexico, the US, and Canada is successful in its attempt to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Four days later, either fueled by excitement or disappointment, the Mexico national team will take to the pitch in Moscow to face defending champions Germany in their opening group game of this year's World Cup.
Mexico are drawn in Group F alongside Germany, Sweden and South Korea. It's certainly one of the toughest groups this year, with all four teams having a realistic shot at advancing to the knockout stage.
F - Based on our World Cup predictor, Opta give Germany (75.9%) the best chance of progressing from Group F at the 2018 @FIFAWorldCup. Mannschaft.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 12, 2018
For more info on the how the Opta Predictor is calculated, click here: https://t.co/O5yVz0Y0Zl#GER #SWE #MEX #KOR pic.twitter.com/35tWldUmmS
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder, and World Cup veteran, Efrain Juarez believes Mexico's squad has all the attributes to make a deep run this time around. But the pressure already looms large on Mexican head coach Juan Carlos Osorio to meet the country's expectations for success, and not all of the supporters have necessarily bought into the Colombian's managerial style and methods.
"I think they're going to be good," Juarez told MLSsoccer.com about Mexico's chances in Russia. "They have a very good squad, very good players. It's a lot of pressure in Mexico now because the people don't understand the way that the manager sees football and the way he manages the national team.
"They are not used to moving or rotating the team too much and this guys does that. He has his own views on [how] to play, to train, and in Mexico there's a lot of pressure on that because at the end of it all, results haven't come in a good way."
This will be Mexico's seventh straight World Cup appearance, and their 16th overall, but they've struggled to make a deep run on the world stage, crashing out in the Round of 16 in their last six trips.
The inability to deliver on the big occasion has been a trend at a number of top international tournaments over the years for Mexico, but Juarez feels like the current crop of talent has what it takes to take an important step forward and make their mark on this year's World Cup.
"I've been involved and all you want to do when you are a player, and you're pulling on the jersey for the national team, is do your best because you are representing a country," Juarez said. "Not just a club, but you are representing 120 million people.
"The players now in the squad, they have a lot of confidence that they can do something to silence the criticism. I have a really good relationship with most of them. We were talking and they're saying that they have a lot of confidence that they can do something important in this World Cup."
Juarez played at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and would have loved to have had another World Cup experience before hanging up his boots. At 30, this year was likely his last shot at achieving that, but looking ahead he's excited at the prospect of Mexico hosting the World Cup for a third time in 2026, having previously hosted in 1970 and 1986 (the only two years they made the quarterfinals).
"It would be an amazing experience," Juarez said. "For everyone in the country, hosting a World Cup is an amazing thing. For the rest of the world, Mexico is a football country. It exists in other sports but in Mexico, football is a religion.
"So if the World Cup comes through in 2026 and Mexico is involved, it will be an amazing party and it will be nice for all the Mexicans because we are so good at creating parties. Even if it was one game it's going to be amazing. It would be a great experience for Mexicans and the world is going to enjoy it so much."