Miguel Herrera vows Mexico won’t be intimidated by Brazil

No matter what happens, Mexicans know they will go into last match against Croatia still in contention

Mexico’s Oribe Peralta after scoring the winner against Cameroon in their opening game at the Estadio das Dunas in Natal.

Mexico’s Oribe Peralta after scoring the winner against Cameroon in their opening game at the Estadio das Dunas in Natal.

Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 09:00

The World Cup’s great underachievers, Mexico have placed themselves in the relatively comfortable position of going into their second Group A match against Brazil today with the pressure off.

The side achieved its first objective with an opening match win against Cameroon, its first ever against an African side at the tournament.

It means no matter what happens against the favourites in the sweltering cauldron that is the remodelled Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza, Mexico know they go into their last match against Croatia still in contention for a place in the knockout stages.

After the shambles of a disastrous qualifying campaign – when they relied on a last-minute favour from the USA to bail them into the tournament behind Costa Rica and Honduras – that will be fine with most Mexican fans looking at a group containing the hosts.

But Miguel Herrera, the country’s fourth coach in a little over six months, has promised his side will not be intimidated by the five times world champions.

“We’re thinking big. We know they will have the support of the crowd, that we will be very much the visitors, but we’ve beaten them once and we know we can do it again,” he promised over the weekend.

It was a suitably bullish prediction from a man who missed the 1994 World Cup after he was suspended for punching a photographer. His side could do with some of his cussedness. At senior level Mexico have a well-earned reputation for been too obliging, too willing to roll over for more illustrious rivals, too fond of glorious failure.

The win Herrera was referring to was the 2-1 victory in the football final at the London Olympics which denied Brazil the one international title it has never won.

The gold medal followed victory, again against Brazil in the final, at the Under-17 world championship in 2005. These youth titles were meant to herald a brighter future at senior level.

Last decade

But despite a rivalry that has grown in the last decade largely thanks to these victories in the junior categories and a famous 2-0 win in the 2007 Copa America, Mexico still remain firmly in Brazil’s shadow.

The Brazilian press has talked up today’s game as revenge for the Olympic defeat. But Neymar, Oscar, Thiago Silva, Marcelo and Hulk, who all played in London, have already achieved that having featured for the senior team in last year’s 2-0 group game victory at the Confederations Cup.

Herrera was not in charge then and has shuffled the squad since as he seeks to break a wretched World Cup history in which his country has only ever managed two quarter-final appearances, and both of those as hosts.

It is a scandalously poor return for the country with Latin America’s richest domestic league which is played in front the region’s biggest crowds in stadiums Brazil is only now beginning to match in quality.

“El Tri” has never been short of technically accomplished players and the side likely to face Brazil is no different. In Oribe Peralta, the scorer of the winner against Cameroon and the two goals in the final in London, it contains a candidate for best World Cup striker plying his trade outside of the European leagues.

Herrera surprised some commentators by picking the technically accomplished but often frustrating Giovani Dos Santos to play just off Peralta against Cameroon. He was rewarded with two goals, though both were incorrectly chalked off by the officials. He should keep his place, leaving Manchester United’s out-of-sorts striker Javier Hernandez – 10 appearances for the side without a goal – on the bench.

His side’s moves

A five-man defence that in Herrera’s aggressive set-up quickly transforms into a 3-5-1-1 is anchored by the veteran Rafael Marquez, the first player to captain his country in four consecutive World Cup finals. Though now 35 years old, the former Barcelona man remains an elegant ball player who launches many of his side’s moves.

Mexico’s wing-backs Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layun like to push forward and will pose questions for Marcelo and Daniel Alves but they risk leaving available the spaces these two equally attack-minded full backs love to run into.

Given this defence with its mix of aggressive wing-backs and a slow centre, much will depend on a likely midfield trio of Andres Guardado, Jose Juan Vazquez and Hector Herrera, Porto’s versatile midfielder who made a strong impression in his first season at the Portuguese club. He will likely be tasked with tracking Oscar, who with Neymar was Brazil’s best player in its unconvincing opening game against Croatia.

Enough evidence

There was enough evidence in that game to suggest that a side willing to take the game to Brazil might expect some profit. But as so often the question with Mexico is mental.

Will it be willing to give it a go? Or will it be content to once again play plucky loser?

Talk of accepting a draw might sound realistic but is also likely to be fatal if not today then later in the tournament, entrenching a deeply rooted culture of underachievement.

The Brazilian writer Nelson Rodrigues famously wrote that his country’s first world title in 1958 helped it kick its “mongrel” inferiority complex. But Mexico is still waiting for its moment of international catharsis.

A win today might finally signal it is no longer content to just make up the numbers.

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