A Taste of the Mexican Spice - World Cup Preview: Mexico
As regular qualifiers for World Cup, Mexico may well look back and wonder why they have never progressed further than the Quarter Finals in all of their 14 attempts. El Tri, who competed in the very first World Cup fixture, were handed a tough group for the 2014 tournament – having been drawn alongside hosts Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon. With head coach Miguel Herrera selecting a squad containing a mixture of youth and experience, the CONCACAF giants will be looking to transfer their regional form onto the grandest stage of them all in Brazil.
How they Qualified
The CONCACAF qualification for the 2014 World Cup consisted of four rounds of competition, with 35 member nations battling for the three automatic qualifying spots. One additional berth would then be decided in a two legged playoff between fourth placed CONCACAF team facing the top ranked team from the Oceania region.
Mexico entered automatically into the third round of qualifying, and were placed in Group B alongside Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guyana. Of course, they were overwhelming favourites to progress, and did such in impressive fashion – winning 6 out of 6 games, scoring 15 and only conceding 2 in the process.
Ahead it was to the fourth round (also known as The Hexagonal, or simply ‘The Hex’), where the three group winners and three runners up from Round 3 competed in a league style format, facing the other five sides home and away. Mexico were not at their best in this double round robin format, finishing fourth out of the six teams, and meaning that they had to face the top Oceania qualifier New Zealand in a playoff. Mexico came through the tie comfortably – winning 9-3 on aggregate. They had achieved their goal of reaching the World Cup Finals, but the impressive 9-3 aggregate win papered over the cracks of what was otherwise an inconsistent qualifying campaign.
As expected, Miguel Herrera has selected a squad of players who he knows and trusts. Herrera has shown in the past that he tends to lean towards players from the Liga MX (Mexican League), so it is not exactly a surprise to see that 70% of the squad is made up of players who currently play in Mexico. It has to be said though, that the quality of football played in the Liga MX is much better than what it is given credit for throughout Europe.
Notable omissions from the squad include Real Sociedad forward Carlos Vela – who continues to reject national call ups despite having a very good season in La Liga, winger Javier Aquino – who has also had a strong season with Villarreal but only made the standby list, and Barcelona midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos – who has not proved his fitness having been sidelined since October with a Cruciate Ligament tear.
23 Man Squad and Standby Players
Goalkeepers; Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio), Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)
Defenders; Carlos Salcido (Tigres), Rafa Márquez (León), Andrés Guardado (Leverkusen), Francisco Rodríguez, Paul Aguilar, Miguel Layún (Club América), Héctor Moreno (Espanyol), Diego Reyes (Porto)
Midfielders; Carlos Peña, Luis Montes, José Juan Vázquez (León), Marco Fabián (Cruz Azul), Héctor Herrera (Porto), Juan Carlos Medina (Club América), Isaác Brizuela (Toluca)
Forwards; Giovani Dos Santos (Villarreal), Javier Hernández (Manchester United), Oribe Peralta, Raúl Jiménez (Club América), Alan Pulido (Tigres)
Standy List; Moisés Muñoz, Juan Carlos Valenquela, Miguel Ponce, Miguel Ángel Herrera, Javier Aquino, Alonso Escoboza, Aldo de Nigris
Strengths and Weaknesses
A clear strength of the Mexico squad is that it includes players with a wealth of experience. Salcido, Márquez and Guardado in the defence all have at least 100 caps each, as well as Márquez and Guardado being experienced Champions League players too. This will be beneficial to Mexico considering many World Cup games are cagey, and can be decided on a defensive error either way. The attacking prowess of Dos Santos, Hernández and Peralta is another string to the Mexican bow. All have an impressive international record (with Peralta scoring 10 in qualifying), and will look further this in Brazil.
On the other hand, the squad does appear to have some weaknesses too. The aging defence will mean a noticeable lack of speed, something which Brazil especially will look to exploit in the group stage. Additionally, the largely inexperienced depth in midfield could find them being overrun against the top sides once Herrera starts to rotate. With midfield play being so crucial at the top level, Mexico will need to be at their very best to avoid being disposed of easily.
Despite only being 25 years of age, Javier Hernández has already played 58 times for his nation – scoring 35 goals in the process. The Manchester United man became the first Mexican to join the club back in 2010, and is widely seen as Mexico’s biggest attacking weapon. The child prodigy, whose father and grandfather both represented the Mexican national team, is currently tied third on the all time international goal scoring list for his country. Hernández endured a tough season at Manchester United under David Moyes, and will look to use his club frustrations as motivation to fire Mexico beyond their previous best World Cup finish of the Quarter Final.
Héctor Moreno has come on leaps and bounds as a Centre Back since joining Espanyol from AZ Alkmaar in 2011, and has emerged as a rumoured transfer target for Manchester United in the summer. The 26 year old, who won Espanyol Player of the Year award in his first season in Spain, has become a regular for Mexico in recent times, and brought up the 50 caps milestone against Nigeria back in March. This season, Moreno has shown that he is an accomplished reader of the game, and is aided by good recovery pace should be find himself out of position. He is a certainty to start Mexico’s first World Cup game against Cameroon.
Giovani Dos Santos
Once listed on the “Top 50 Most Exciting Teen Footballers”, Giovani Dos Santos’ career hit a brick wall in 2008 when he signed for Tottenham Hotspur from Barcelona. In four years, Dos Santos only made 15 Premier League appearances, and found himself being loaned out all across Europe. After his contract ran out as Spurs, he returned to Spain and was unveiled as Mallorca’s new Number 9. An impressive season was not enough to save the club from relegation, but Dos Santos was signed by newly promoted Villarreal for the 2013-14 season, and has began putting his promising career back on track ever since. 10 Goals and 7 Assists in La Liga gave Dos Santos and Villarreal a Europa League spot in what was seen as a fantastic first season back in the top division for the club. Dos Santos is another sure-fire starter for Mexico when fit, and could grab a few goals this tournament with his newfound confidence.
Potential Starting XI
I really don’t know what to expect of Mexico ahead of this World Cup. An opening game victory over Cameroon is widely expected, and a few goals could also help build confidence within the squad. I then expect Mexico to be defeated by hosts Brazil in their second game. The nature of the defeat will depend on which Brazil side turn up for the occasion. With Cameroon the likely whipping boys of the group, and Brazil the favourites to cruise through, Mexico could well face Croatia in a decider, with the winner going through to the knockout stages.
This Mexican side has a point to prove back home after receiving a lot of criticism in the qualification rounds. I believe their progress will much depend on how they react to the criticism, as it could either be a stimulus to push them on, or create an environment with too much pressure to allow players to be expressive on the pitch.
Predicted Finish: Group Stages