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FIFA World Cup Prospectus: Mexico

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For the next 32 days, I will countdown the remaining time leading up to the World Cup with a 32-day preview of each team that will be participating. For those of you who want to know each team inside and out, the 32-Day 2014 FIFA World Cup Prospectus is the World Cup preview. If you think my comments or opinions about a certain team is incorrect, feel free to email me at youngelikim90@gmail.com and I will respond to your questions on a mailbag post before the first day of the World Cup.

Previous Team: Brazil

Basic Info:

Nickname: El Tricolor

FIFA Ranking: 19

Previous World Cups: 1930, 1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1978, 1986, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010

How Did They Qualify?

Despite boasting one of the most talented teams in their region, Mexico struggled to live up to their billing during the qualifying rounds. During the final push of their qualifying stretch in September 2013, the team fired three different managers. In their final group qualifying match, Mexico desperately needed to earn a point to pull away from Panama and finish fourth in their group. However, Mexico shot themselves in the foot after losing to Costa Rica 2-1 and saw their hopes dwindle down when Panama held a 2-1 lead over USA at the 83rd minute. Miraculously, USA came back with two goals in the final 90 seconds of the match thanks to Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson. Mexico then had to play a two-match playoff against Oceania winners New Zealand, and took care of business with a 5-1 goalfest in the first leg and a 4-2 victory in the second leg. Mexico remains indebted to USA to this day.

Group: A

Opponents (Match Dates):Cameroon (6/13), Brazil (6/17), Croatia (6/23)

Projected Group Finish: Third

How can they escape this group?

Mexico has been a mess throughout the qualifying stages and they are still searching for their identity. They are still figuring out their starting 11 and it’s too late to experiment new formations and tactics. They have the talent to edge out the likes of Cameroon in the first match, but the match against Brazil will be a tough one. Brazil will look to avenge the 2012 London Olympics gold medal loss, but Mexico’s clogged defense could give Brazil some troubles. At best Mexico will exit the Brazil match with a draw, leading up to a must-win against Croatia. Mexico will look to frustrate Mario Mandzukick, close up passing lanes from Luka Modric and rely on swift counterattacks to sneak out with a one-goal victory. 

Why They’ll Finish In Third?

Mexico has made it into the top 16 in every World Cup appearance since 1994. Don’t count on them to return to their familiar spot this year. The team is just riddled with on-field dysfunction and doesn’t boast quality talent that can beat the likes of Croatia or Brazil. With a 5-3-2 formation, Mexico will find themselves playing into Croatia and Brazil’s hands since both teams boast a strong midfield that are more than capable of controlling the pitch and exposing holes in the Mexican defense.

Grading each position:

Keeper: Ligue 1 Ajaccio’s Guillermo Ochoa is preferably the better option and his performance in the Nigeria friendly just goes on to show that he deserves the starting nod. Unfortunately head coach Miguel Herrera is going to hold onto his bias for domestic players and start Cruz Azul’s Jesus Corona. The drop-off in talent isn’t significant and there could be arguments made that Corona is a better keeper. However, when facing the likes of Cameroon (which boasts several Ligue 1 players), a key must-win match, wouldn’t it be advantageous to start Ochoa who is more familiar with the Cameroonian players?

Here’s to hoping Herrera comes to his senses.

Grade: B- if Ochoa, C+ if Corona

Defense: Miguel Herrera will be employing five men in the backline in his 5-3-2 formation with three center-backs anchoring the defense with two wingbacks conservatively aiding the midfield. Captain Rafael Marquez of Leon will anchor the middle center-back position and will be aided on the left by Espanyol’s Hector Moreno and on the right by Porto’s Diego Reyes. This defensive formation helps the veteran Rafa greatly due to the fact the national team needs his leadership despite the fact that he isn’t as quick as he used to be. With five in the back, this formation hides Rafa’s slow pace and yet keeps him on the pitch to provide the much needed intangibles. Herrera will likely employ his two wingbacks from Club America, Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar, into the starting eleven. Although the two are familiar with their roles in this formation, the fact that they haven’t been tested against world class opponents is big issue.

Outside of the players mentioned, there are hardly any players worth mentioning who can be considered suitable replacements. If any of the three center-backs or the wingbacks get hurt, Mexico’s backline is in trouble.

Grade: B-

Midfield: In a perfect world, Villareal’s Giovani Dos Santos and Bayer Leverkeusen’s Andres Guardado would man the wings while Porto’s Hector Herrera mans the middle. Unfortunately, that will not be the case due to the players’ unfamiliarity Herrera’s formation and Dos Santos’ spat with the manager.

Guardado has rarely featured for his club, raising questions about his match fitness for the World Cup. Herrera would rely on Luis Monte from Leon to play the right center midfield position while Herrera will play at the left. Although Juan Carlos Medina is expected to take the defensive midfield position due to his affiliation with Club America, don’t be surprised if Juan Jose Vasquez of Leon earns the starting nod. Vasquez has been a more solid and consistent performer in the Liga MX than Medina this season.

Herrera omitted the talented Villareal winger Javier Aquino who was deserving of a starting spot on the squad, but his unfamiliarity with the 5-3-2 and inability to adjust to a central midfielder role led to his omission. Aquino’s exclusion is a huge waste of talent.

Grade: C

Attack: After the 2010 World Cup, most fans would not have hesitated to select Javier Hernandez of Manchester United and Carlos Vela of Real Sociedad to play up top. It’s really sad how things have changed. Chicharito was nearly considered a bygone this season after struggling to find playing time for Manchester United, but is now all but close to securing back his starting spot after seeing some playing time the last couple of weeks. Carlos Vela on the other hand has opted to not play after an ongoing series of disagreements with the Mexican Football Federation.

Carlos Vela! The guy who scored 15 goals in La Liga this season told the Mexican Football Federation to f--- off*! The best Mexican football player of 2014 will not be playing for Mexico!

Meanwhile, Miguel Herrera is trying to not panic and is still pairing Oribe Peralta of Santos Laguna with Hernandez to no avail. As Rob Schneider once said in Big Daddy, “They went together like lamb and tuna fish.” Although Peralta still deserves credit for consistently finding the net during qualifiers, it’s hard to imagine how his game will translate against the likes of Croatia and Brazil. Here’s to holding out for hope that the Peralta and Chicharito pairing will somehow work.

Alan Pulido of UANL has impressed his manager after scoring a hat trick in his international debut against South Korea and knocking in the game-tying goal against rival USA, but they were against B-squad lineups. Still, those factors alone does not discredit his pace and great sense of positioning. For now consider any rumors about him starting to be rubbish, unless he shines in the upcoming friendlies. He probably will compete with Dos Santos as the best offensive option off the bench. 

*Ok Vela didn’t publicly tell the FMF to f--- off, but it’s likely that message was being said in his head when he told the press that the players who were featured more often on the national side deserved it more.

Grade: C

Coaching: Miguel Herrera really isn’t the answer to Mexico’s problems. After losing to Costa Rica 2-1 in his coaching debut (Also Mexico’s final group qualifying match), Herrera got bailed out by the USA and easily manhandled New Zealand to qualify for the World Cup. It’s easy to take credit away from Herrera because New Zealand* was not a strong team to begin with.

His strong adherence to his tactics and preference to his Club America players make it really difficult for the more talented Europe-based players feel like they belong on the team. However, his selections are justifiable due to the odd circumstances he was hired in. With only 7 months with the national team, he didn’t have ample time to build a team identity or build a relationship with the Europe-based players. Since the key to succeeding in the World Cup is defense and team chemistry, sticking with his Club America tactics might have been the best choice.

Still his empty victories over New Zealand and B-squad South Korea barely holds any value. For whatever his 5-3-2 is worth, it’s not enough to leave Mexico fans satisfied for the disaster that awaits.

I’m imagining how a highly motivated, Ryan Nelson-led New Zealand could have tied 0-0 with Mexico at the Azteca and sneak into the World Cup with a 1-0 victory at home. But Ryan Nelson retired a few years back and is coaching Toronto FC. I know he’s old, but boo. He could’ve brought new life to 2010’s favorite underdog team and parked the bus against the entire group A. Free 1-point draws for everyone!

Grade: C-

How can they win the World Cup?

Aye ya…No se amigos. They already made so many adjustments, I really find it hard to believe this to be possible even with my imagination. Maybe if Luka Modric gets hurt before the match, giving Mexico a shot at winning second in their group. Until Oribe Peralta and Chicharito figure out the formula to working together, it’s hard seeing this team advance past the knockout stages. If they do work together, I’d give them a chance. A small chance.

What’s There to like about Mexico?

Bill Simmon’s column about his visit to a USA vs. Mexico match in the Azteca highlights the fanaticism of Mexican soccer fans. I don’t think every Mexican soccer fan would throw a bag of urine at the opposing team’s players, but the vividness of this story’s details would leave every reader believing so. The one thing I love about Mexico’s cheer is whenever they chant “Si Se Puede” (Or “It can be done”). Whenever the crowd raises their fists and roar out that phrase from the top of their lungs, there’s a sense of empowerment building within the fans and somehow transferring to the Mexican squad. I loved that cheer so much, I once joined in with the fans at Mexico vs Korea baseball game much to their confusion.

Having grown up in Los Angeles, there’s no denying that Mexican food is one of the best things that fill your stomach with late at night. When it comes to midnight snacks, I usually find a tacqueria and order some hot moist pork tamales and tender lengua tacos (Cow’s tongue) with mild salsa on the side. You can never go wrong with cow tongues. As gross as that sounds, trust me. You’ll regret not having that in your tacos.

Kit unveil:

I really love the dynamics of the green base marked with a jagged white stripe and jagged red stripe at the chest part of the home kit. The design has a feisty swagger to it. The green zigzags on the red away kit make me want to wear a pair of 3-D glasses because it’s awfully painful to look at.

Disagree with my opinions? Feel free to email me at youngelikim90@gmail.com or shoot me a tweet at @notveryold. I'll be compiling a mailbag of your questions and post my response the day of the World Cup!