México - Can ‘El Trí’ overcome their 2nd round blues?
After a bad start to the qualifying campaign under Sven Goran Eriksson, Javier Aguirre returned for a second stint with “El Trí” and ensured that México qualified with games to spare. In the process he built a team which is a goof mix of veterans like Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Rafa Marquez, Gerardo Torrado and exciting young players like Javier Hernandez (Man.United), Carlos Vela (Arsenal).
México has always played well in the group stages of the world cup. The usually get eliminated in the 2nd round. The two occasions on which they advanced to quarterfinals in 70 & 86, they were the hosts. The Mexican people support their team passionately and have high hopes. Having had the opportunity to live in México, I can vouch that the hype and expectations are comparable to those in India for cricket.
In the 90s the Mexican national team used to be made of primarily homegrown players from the Mexican league, probably the richest league outside the big European leagues. It has been changing a lot in the past decade, especially ever since Rafa Marquez moved to FC Barcelona. No almost half of the players in the team play in big leagues of Europe. Added to the mix, Javier Aguirre who has been very successful, this is a very well drilled team with a lot of exposure to the top players in the world.
Style of Play
México traditionally are very good with the ball. Slick passing by the pivots in the midfield, skillful wingers stuck to the touch-lines going up and down plus a host of good 2nd striker kind of players who play behind the center-forward. What they usually lack are quality strikers, the center-forwards in particular.
Depending on the opponent, they usually switch between a 3-5-2 formation against the more accomplished teams or a 4-5-1 (or a 4-1-4-1 with Marquez anchoring in front of the defence) against teams that are not good at possession. Two holding midfielders in the midfield like Rafa Marquez and Torrado play in front of the 3 central defenders Salcido, Osorio and Francisco Rodriguez. Andres Guardado will be play on the left wing and is a very good at the classic wing play as well as shoot from medium distance. Alberto Medina or Carlos Vela will do the same on the right side (or sometimes play as the 2nd striker). Guillermo Franco or the young Javier Hernandez will likely be alone up front with Giovanni Dos Santos/Cuauhtémoc Blanco in 2nd striker/free role. You will see México keeping the ball for long periods in the game even against accomplished sides.
México is one of the few teams who have been training together as a team (except those playing in the European Leagues) since April. They have played a bunch of friendlies against African nations to prepare for their first opponent South Africa and close out with a series of games against the top sides in Europe like England, Netherlands among others. This is a definitely a positive for México.
One of the causes of concern is the lack of enough quality in front of the goal. It was evident at the recent friendly against England at Wembley. México dominated possession in both halves of the game and created a lot of chances but failed to capitalize and were soundly beaten in the end. The lack of directness, rather the lack of a plan B to switch to a more direct approach should their plan A isn’t working has been the undoing of México for years.
The 2nd biggest issue is the lack of size, most of the players are small and they can be overpowered at times, especially while defending set pieces.
Depending on the their strengths oppositions will either counterattack by soaking up the Mexican possession and try to win free kicks close to the 18 yard box. If México falls behind their style of play makes is doubly difficult for them to come back. On the same coin if they take an early lead they can run away with the game against the best of them. A lot depends on the finish of Javier Hernandez and the experienced Guillermo Franco. Blanco will be primarily used as an impact sub in the 2nd half, at 35+ he doesn’t have the legs of the past but his vision and the reading of the game are still intact and can unleash a great pass at any time.
México are in an open group with no clear favorites. South Africa, France and Uruguay do not necessarily strike fear, but at the same time each of them will be feeling very good about their chances. They could run into bitter rivals Argentina in the 2nd round, a repeat of the 2nd round cracker in 2006 which the Argentinians won through a wonder goal from Maxi Rodriguez in overtime.
I predict México to breakthrough their wall and make it to Quarter-final. With a few lucky breaks with the draw, I won’t be surprised if they make it to the semi-finals because they are in the easier half of the draw.
Team Bus Slogan: ¡Es tiempo de un nuevo campeón! (It is time for a new champion).
Slogan Rating: 8/10. Bold and positive.