Traditionally, Mexico is the class of CONCACAF. With more World Cup appearances (14) and more Gold Cup titles (9) than any other of its continental cohorts, as well as being the only CONCACAF side to win a Confederations Cup title, El Tri are historically the best team in the region. But this time around Mexico struggled through the Hex, and was minutes away from World Cup elimination, and only snuck in through the back door thanks to the United States—how’s that for poetic justice?—and a forgiving playoff format that saw them take on minnows New Zealand. They qualified for the World Cup, but just barely.
Goalkeepers: Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Guillermo Ochoa (AC Ajaccio)
Defenders: Paul Aguilar (Club America) Miguel Layun (Club America), Hector Moreno (Espanyol), Diego Reyes (Porto), Francisco Rodriguez (Club America), Rafael Marquez (Leon), Carlos Salcido (Tigres)
Midfielders: Hector Herrera (Porto), Jose Juan Vazquez (Leon), Juan Carlos Medina (Club America), Carlos Pena (Leon), Isaac Brizuela (Toluca), Javier Aquino (Villarreal), Marco Fabian (Cruz Azul), Andres Guardado (Bayer Leverkusen)
Forwards: Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna), Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), Raul Jimenez (Club America), Alan Pulido (Tigres), Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal)
Miguel Herrera was not Mexico’s first choice for the World Cup. Or their second. Or third. El Tri went through Chepo de la Torre, Luis Fernando Tena and Victor Manuel Vucetich in qualifying before the America CF manager came in and Mexico squeaked into the World Cup.
5-3-2: (GK) Corona – (D) Aguilar, Reyes, Marquez, Moreno, Layun – (M) Herrera, Medina, Pena – (F) Pulido, Peralta
Group A schedule
June 13: vs. Cameroon in Natal
June 17: vs. Brazil in Fortaleza
June 23: vs. Croatia in Recife
How they qualified
It’s fair to say that Mexico took the hardest road they could find to the World Cup. In the final round, Mexico seemed determined to draw themselves to death, with five of the 10 games ending in ties. In fact, Mexico only won two matches in CONCACAF’s final round, a staggeringly weak display from a team usually considered a regional heavyweight. Part of the problem is their sudden inability to win at home. Mexico started the final round of CONCACAF qualifying with three scoreless draws at home, before losing 2-1 at the Azetca to Honduras. It wasn’t until their second-last match that Mexico mustered a win in their capital.
Where once the Mexican’s couldn’t score to save their lives—through the first four home games of the last round of qualifying, El Tri were held to just one goal at the Azteca—Herrera has them scoring in bunches. Since the end of the hex round of qualification, the front line of Alan Pulido and Oribe Peralta have led Mexico to get three goals or more in five of seven matches. When (or maybe that should be if) Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez gets in form and in on the act, watch out.
Mexico’s main struggle seems to be a mental one. Used to being powerhouses in CONCACAF, they all but take qualification for granted. This year, they snuck in just as the door slammed shut, after a stunningly poor qualification campaign came down to a gift from the Americans (who didn’t need to, but beat Panama on the last matchday to elevate the Mexicans into the final spot). Charity from the U.S. has to be tough to swallow for Mexico, historically the dominant side of the Rio Grande Rivalry. They’ve been doing well since qualifying, but they’re confidence will be a factor at a time when it needs to be unassailable.
Players to watch
Alan Pulido: It’s unclear how much time the youngster will get, but if recent form counts for anything it should be a lot. He’s got four goals in his first four international games—one against the U.S. and a hat trick against South Korea, both World Cup sides. If Herrera does nothing else, bringing this left-sided attacker into the fold will be a fine legacy.
Giovanni Dos Santos: The creative linchpin in the Mexican side, the Villarreal man may be best suited to playing as a withdrawn striker, befitting his ability to both create and finish.
Rafael Marquez: The defender has bled green, white and red for 17 years and is set to be the first man to captain his country to four World Cups.
Will Javier Hernandez play? The Manchester United star has been off-form and out of favour in Herrera’s team. He lagged behind Oribe Peralta in scoring through qualifying and only netted four in 24 Premier League appearances this year. He hasn’t scored for Mexico since the Confederations Cup. With Peralta’s form not slowing down and Pulido coming out of nowhere, Hernandez has work to do to get in Mexico’s starting 11.
Prospects in Brazil
Despite the uptick in form and fortunes for Mexico, it doesn’t look good. They’re competing for second in Group A with Croatia (especially) and Cameroon, and unlikely to win it. Even if they do, they’ll likely face Chile or the Netherlands, so it will take a miracle to get beyond the round of 16. They can pretty much forget the quarters, their usual target in the World Cup.
World Cup history
Traditionally CONCACAF’s powerhouse, Mexico has reached 14 World Cups, getting to the quarterfinals twice. They also have a black mark on their record, being banned from the 1990 tournament for fielding an ineligible player in previous youth tournament.
• 1930—First round
• 1934—Did not qualify
• 1950 to 1966— First round
• 1974—Did not qualify
• 1978—First round
• 1982—Did not qualify
• 1994-2010—Second round
Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States