Nickname: El Tri
Rankings: 17 (FIFA), 18 (SPI)
Elite Players: NA
Key Players: Giovanni Dos Santos, Andres Guardado, Gerardo Torrado, Rafa Marquez, Cuauhtemoc Blanco
History: Quarterfinalists 1970, 1986 (Both Times as Host) 11W-22L-12D
Odds to Win World Cup: 80/1
“Wisdom lies not in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two.” – Octavio Paz
Mexico is a bully. It’s not their style of play or the piss-filled missiles flying in from the Azteca stands. It’s how they behave against certain opponents. They beat bad teams. They lose to good ones. They are remarkably predictable. Mexico qualifies serially against weak opposition. They advance from the group stage by beating the weak link and holding out for draws. They duck out at the first sign of adversity in the knockout stage. This year may be different, but not for the better.
The Mexicans screwed up, hiring Sven-Goran Eriksson. He knew nothing of Mexican soccer. He can assess talent well. He can’t assemble it. He’s great at spending your money and seducing your secretaries. He’s not so great at coaching a national team. Mexico needed goal difference over Jamaica to even make the final round of qualifying. They lost two of their first three qualifiers. Javier Aguirre took over for Mexico, stabilized them and qualified them, but it was not necessarily a revolution.
Home Sweet Home: Mexico’s home qualifiers were back-loaded during the final round of qualifying. Even under Sven, Mexico are a different team with the imposing atmosphere and altitude of Azteca. During the final two rounds of qualifying, Mexico won all eight home matches, outscoring opponents 18-5. Away from home they were 1-5-2. They lost to Jamaica and drew with Canada. They were outscored 13-9. In the seven qualifiers under Aguirre, they won the four home matches. They lost away to El Salvador, beat Costa Rica and drew with Trinidad & Tobago.
Tactics: Aguirre had an inherent advantage tactically. The standard of coaching in CONCACAF is poor. Aguirre coached Mexico in a World Cup in 2002. He spent the subsequent seven years in Spain. He took Atletico Madrid to the Champions League. He should, and did, outwit North American opposition. He won’t have that disparity at the World Cup.
Goal Scoring: Mexico scores goals, but they have no reliable goal-scorer. Six players scored three goals during the 18 qualifying matches. No one scored more. Bereft of ideas, Aguirre has opted for experience. He’s expected to bring Blanco (37), Francisco Palencia (37) and Guillermo Franco (33) to play up front.
Nery Castillo was expected to be a force in 2010. It’s hard to confirm he’s still alive outside of Wikipedia. Shakhtar Donetsk paid $30 million for him in 2007. As far as I can tell, the 25-year-old has scored one goal in 26 total appearances for three clubs since. He was so desperate to leave the Ukraine for Manchester City after half a season he paid half the $6.75 million loan fee himself.
Age Gap: Performing successfully at the World Cup is common sense. You want a core of players in the prime, 24-28. They have an experienced grasp of the game, with the athleticism to capitalize on it. An ideal graph of ages would be a bell curve. Mexico has clusters at both poles.
They will rely on old players. We mentioned the two 37 year-old strikers. The team also has a seasoned spine. Gerardo Torrado and Rafa Marquez will be 31. Marquez, in particular, has been catastrophic for Barcelona, a ghost of his former self.
They will rely on raw, young players. Andres Guardado is the seasoned veteran at 23 on the left wing. He’s been solid for both the national team and his club side, Deportivo La Coruna in Spain. Though, he could be an injury concern, possibly missing the rest of the season with a groin problem.
If Guardado is out, Mexico will rely on enigmatic starlets Giovanni Dos Santos and Carlos Vela for creativity. Dos Santos has shown patches of dominance for club and country, but been woefully inconsistent. Tottenham loaned him to a second-division club last season and sent him to Turkey this season. Vela was projected as a great, world-class forward. Though he’s displayed oodles of ability in the Carling Cup. He’s had no serious impact on the Arsenal first team. He’s scored once in 36 appearances in the Premier League and Europe.
Conclusion: Mexico can attack with skill. They exploit teams that are poor or poorly organized. They should, theoretically, be used to playing at altitude. Their normal MO in this group would be to beat South Africa and hold on for draws against France and Uruguay. The trouble is they play South Africa first, in the opening match of the tournament. If the Joburg crowd galvanizes South Africa into a result in that first match, Mexico will be in trouble.
Random Fact: Mexico has more Catholics than any other country besides Brazil. No word on the number of pedophilic priests.
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
Group C: England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile