Despite a stuttering start to their qualification campaign, in the end Mexico ensured their attendance of South Africa and a 5th World cup in a row (in 1990 they were banned for fielding an ineligible player) with a 4-1 demolition of El Salvador in the Azteca Stadium. Qualification was gained through a second place spot behind the USA.
Previous coach and managerial mercenary Sven Goran Ericsson was ousted early on in the campaign and replaced by a sure pair of hands in Javier Aguirre who opted to choose a balance of Mexican league stalwarts and European based stars. More emphasis was put on a fluid and attacking style and a creative input from Giovanno Dos Santos and Cuauhtémoc Blanco. This helped to open opposition defences and placate groaning fans.
In January Mexico were drawn into Group A alongside South Africa, Uruguay and France for the finals in June as a result they will face a hard task to ensure progression.
The first game for Mexico, is on June 11th in Johannesburg and the first game of the tournament, are hosts South Africa. On paper Mexico are the far superior team and should have more than enough to cope with the limited South African team. However the crowd will be a partisan in Jo-burg and the world will be watching the opening game in anticipation; the pressure will be on Mexico to win and the onus on them to attack.
Also, historically the opening World Cup game provides a shock. Remember Argentina vs Cameroon in 1990 and France vs Senegal in 2002?
Despite this Mexico should record a win if they can handle the pressure and concentrate on matters on the pitch.
Next up are the mercurial French on June 17th in Polokwane.
France ensured qualification via Thierry Henry’s hand in a play-off against Ireland. Under the guidance of Raymond Domenech France scraped through qualification under-performing with a team full of 1st rate stars including Nicholas Anelka, Frank Ribery and Karim Benzama. However, Laurent Blanc has been touted to replace the erratic Domenech for the tournament and he may provide the direction and control that seems to be lacking.
If France can gel and play to their full potential Mexico will find it very difficult. France’s main strength is in their attack and support from midfield. Although Henry is ageing he still possesses the guile to open defences, Ribery is gathering form at Bayern Munich and although largely un-used at Real Madrid Benzame is a definite threat. Their main weakness may be in the age of the squad, with an average of 29 but this also provides experience also several of the players are previous World Cup winners.
On other consideration may be the weather conditions as South Africa in June will be far colder than expected which in turn may favour the European teams.
Mexico’s last group match will be against Uruguay in Rustenburg on the 22nd of June.
The Uruguayans stumbled to South Africa via play off with Comnebols Costa Rica after a poor end to their campaign. Their best player and captain is Athletio Madrid’s Diego Forlan who can dazzle with amazing finishing and skill, he will most likely to be partnered with Ajax’s Luis Saurez.
Mexico and Uruguay are pretty evenly matched in regards to players and share the same playing style. Depending on the previous results it may be this game that decides both teams progression to the next round.