Mexico finds itself in perfect company at this World Cup’s opening phase. Excluding Brazil, Mexico’s other Group A opponents Cameroon and Croatia, just like the Central Americans, needed a backdoor intervention to qualify.
Mexico, for all its pedigree in the Concacaf region, only reached Brazil after a play-off victory over New Zealand. Croatia, too, needed a play-off, while Cameroon would have been knocked out altogether if not for three points secured in the boardroom as the African qualifying campaign reached its climax.
An unusually difficult qualifying campaign meant the Mexico manager’s position had a revolving door quality about it with four coaches employed in all, but that was still the easy part. It’s been three decades since El Tri’s last quarter-final appearance, meaning post-1986 Mexico’s record reads five World Cups, five second round exits. As far as this tournament goes, the Mexicans don’t take one step forward and two steps back; they just stroll into the second round then stop.
How they play: By tradition a neat outfit, Mexico tends to be miserly at both ends while new manager Miguel Herrera fancies three in central defence with attack-minded full backs.
Strengths: The Mexicans are dangerous from set-pieces, and thanks to their relative proximity to Brazil, El Tri can count on a fanatical fan base to spur them on.
Weaknesses: El Tri are trying to rediscover themselves after a chaotic qualifying campaign and despite the beautiful build-up play Mexico is often found wanting for end product.
Star man: Javier Hernandez’s scoring record for El Tri borders on sensational- 35 goals in only 57 games, so his form will be pivotal to Mexico’s hopes of making it to the next stage.
One to watch: Diego Reyes, 21, was one of the stars for Mexico at the London Olympics and despite his struggles after moving to Europe remains one of El Tri’s most promising defenders.
Prospects: Only Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Italy match Mexico’s record as the team to have qualified for every World Cup in the last 30 years, which, on pedigree alone, suggests the Mexicans should have an edge over Croatia and Cameroon—the teams they will be competing against for the second spot in Group A.
There is no question the three protagonists have been going backwards in recent times, hence qualification for the next round may be earned by the team that manages not to be as bad as the others, and that team may just be Mexico.
How they qualified: Beat New Zealand 9-3 on aggregate in two-legged play-off
World Cup appearances: 15
World Cup record: 1930 - First round; 1950 - First round; 1954 - First round; 1958 - First round; 1962 - First round; 1966 - First round; 1970 - Quarter-finals; 1978 - First round; 1986 - Quarter-finals; 1990 - Qualified but suspended by FIFA; 1994 - Second round; 1998 - Second round; 2002 - Second round; 2006 - Second round; 2010 - Second round
Overall record: P49, W12, D14, L23
Best performance: Quarter-finalists in 1970 and 1986
World Cup high: Reaching the quarter-finals in 1970 and 1986, on both occasions as the host nation
World Cup low: Defeat against West Germany in the quarter-finals of 1986 which Mexico hosted
World Cup legend: Goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal was known as ‘Five Cups’, because he became the first player to participate in five World Cups
Probable line-up: Jesus Corona, Hector Moreno, Rafael Marquez (captain), Diego Reyes, Andres Guardado, Juan Carlos Medina, Luis Montes, Paul Aguilar, Giovanni dos Santos, Javier Hernandez, Oribe Peralta
FIFA ranking: 21
Coach: Miguel Herrera