The World Cup begins on June 12. We kick off our team-by-team capsule looks with Mexico, which named its 23-man roster on Friday.
Schedule: June 13 vs. Cameroon; June 17 vs. Brazil; June 23 vs. Croatia
World Cup History: 14 previous Finals appearances. Quarterfinals in 1970 and 1986; Round of 16 in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2010.
Qualifying Form: El Tri finished fourth in the CONCACAF Hexagonal, then defeated New Zealand in a playoff, leaving them to consider giving Graham Zusi sainthood for his goal that eliminated Panama and saved El Tri. Mexico wouldn’t be here, either, if not for Raul Jimenez’s insane bicycle kick at home vs. Panama in October.
Manager: Miguel Herrera, who — jokes aside — has done a great job since taking over late in qualification despite no semblance of a neck and sharing Pete Rose’s barber.
Player to Watch: Oribe Peralta. The Santos Laguna man might be tipped to lead the Mexico attack over Chicharito, if recent form tells us anything. He’s scored 17 goals combined in the Apertura and Clausura — the top Mexican player over that period.
Tactics/Style: Mexico will be one of the only teams at the World Cup to play a three-man defense anchored by reestablished captain Rafa Marquez, relying on wingbacks like Andres Guardado or 34-year-old Carlos Salcido for attacking width.
WAG of Note: Actress/Model Ana Bekoa is linked romantically to Marco Fabian.
Reason to root for: A high tide for CONCACAF lifts all ships, or something?
Reason to root against: Pass. Okay … two words: Rafa Marquez.
Odds of winning: 100-to-1
Miscellany: Javier Hernandez, like almost everyone else at Manchester United had a season to forget. Chicharito didn’t score in the Hex, so you wonder how much faith Herrera has in him. I’m not sure the “lack of service” excuse for Chicharito lasts forever. … Carlos Peña is the most-capped Mexican midfielder on the roster with 14. … Perhaps El Tri has gotten its act together, going six games unbeaten since a loss to Costa Rica on Oct. 15. More importantly, Mexico’s scored 19 goals in those games (nine vs. New Zealand over two games) which is significant since El Tri scored only seven times in the 10 games of the CONCACAF Hexagonal, including three scoreless draws. … CD-Guadalajara aka Chivas — traditionally one of the two biggest clubs in Mexico — didn’t produce a single player for El Tri’s 23-man roster. … Mexico has advanced out of the Group Stage in five straight tournaments. … Guillermo Ochoa gets all the endorsement deals (you’ll see his face during commercial breaks), but Jose Corona is likely to start in goal for Mexico.
Gio, Gio, Gio: Giovani dos Santos reputation in America is high since he’s continually punished the United States National Team, notably the 2011 Gold Cup final — Bob Bradley’s final game in charge. Dos Santos status in Mexico is less lofty and his place in Herrera’s squad was anything but guaranteed. After leaving Barcelona in 2008, Dos Santos bounced around Europe, playing at five different clubs. He appears to have found a home at Villarreal. This season’s he’s scored 10 goals to lead the team, which bodes well for his form. The question is where he plays? Out wide or in an creative role behind the strikers.
Something else to consider: Herrera took the fairly ballsy route of ignoring at lot of his European-based “star” players, notably Carlos Vela (on strike from the National Team), instead willing Mexico into the World Cup with a most Liga MX-based squad comprised of his former Club America players. In the playoff vs. New Zealand, his team was entirely domestic-based. That didn’t change with his World Cup squad with 16 of the 23 players coming from Liga MX. I tend to doubt this choice churns out as much angst or sweeping declarations in Mexico as it does with American fans when it comes to MLS. After all the pitfalls during qualifying, Mexico finally does seem on the same page under Herrera and his reliance on the domestic league.
Last word: The good news for Mexico? In order to be eliminated from the World Cup for the third straight time by Argentina, it would mean El Tri advanced all the way to the final. That said, as improved as Mexico has been under Herrera, getting through a group featuring host Brazil and a likely Round of 16 match with either Spain or the Netherlands is probably too much to ask, unless Chicharito, dos Santos and the rest of the players from the 2012 Olympic Gold Medal-winning team finally live up to the hype.
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