Mexico’s gold medal at the London Olympics was supposed to be a good sign for the national team as it looked ahead to the World Cup 2014. Instead, the Mexicans barely qualified.
Despite all the problems of 2013, Mexico coach Miguel Herrera says his team can go deep — very deep — into the tournament in Brazil.
“The round of 16 seems like very little,” Herrera said recently, “we’re going to reach the final.”
Mexico had four coaches during its qualifying campaign, finished 11 points behind the United States over 10 games, and only nudged out Panama to secure an easy two-game playoff against New Zealand to reach the World Cup. But Herrera has certainly shaken things up since taking over in November.
The former coach at Mexican club America used a domestic-only squad to easily overcome New Zealand in the November playoffs, leaving out stars like Javier Hernandez, Giovani Dos Santos and Hector Moreno.
Former Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez was brought back into the national team setup as captain and will join a small group of players that have appeared at four World Cups.
“It is a great responsibility that obliges you to be an example,” Marquez said.
Herrera has also changed the team’s tactics and style of play to an offensive 5-3-2 system that his mentor and former national team coach Ricardo La Volpe used at the 2006 World Cup.
That year, Mexico was exciting but went out in extra time in a round of 16 match against Argentina.
In Brazil, there is likely to be as many as eight Europe-based players in Mexico’s final squad. But one consistent problem over the 2013 turmoil and into 2014 has been Real Sociedad forward Carlos Vela.
Considered by many Mexico’s best player, he has refused a call up for not being “mentally 100 percent to be part of the team.”
Hernandez is Mexico’s biggest star, but his place as a starter in Brazil is in no way guaranteed because of his lack of minutes at Manchester United and the consistent form of Oribe Peralta.
Mexico plays its first match at the World Cup in Natal against Cameroon on June 13, faces Brazil on June 17 in Fortaleza in its most difficult game in Group A, and will then play Croatia on June 23 in Recife.
Most would pick Brazil to win the group. The second spot looks wide open.
While Herrera may have his sights set on the final, the Mexican federation’s stated goal is reaching the quarterfinals. That seems to be a more realistic goal for a team that has reached the round of 16 in five straight tournaments, and lost each time.