El Tri will either soar in South Africa or crash and burn
Mexico fans don’t really know what to expect from their team.
The country seems to be divided between the optimistic, who expect an historic performance this summer; the pessimistic, who think their group is too tough for them to advance; and the majority, who believe they will be eliminated, as usual, in the last 16.
The good streak of results that the team has been through since Javier Aguirre’s arrival (two defeats in 17 matches) make people feel confident, but the fact that they haven’t faced important opposition – along with some questionable decisions by the coach – have dampened the optimism a bit.
The questions start in goal where Guillermo Ochoa is going through the lowest form of his career at the worst possible moment. Ochoa has kept his place by default since Oswaldo Sanchez, the only serious alternative, fell out with Aguirre.
The country is also divided over the role of Cuauhtemoc Blanco. The veteran playmaker was essential in the qualifiers, but has looked completely out of form since returning to his homeland to play for second-tier Veracruz. To make things worse, the national team’s medical staff have reported him to be 10kg overweight.
Blanco may be in South Africa on sentiment but his participation is likely to be minimal and that leaves a big hole in the squad as there is a shortage of playmakers. To cover up for that, Aguirre has made peace with talented but eccentric Adolfo Bautista, who has been in good form for Guadalajara after a disastrous one-year stint with Jaguares.
To make things worse, Andres Guardado – the team’s best player lately – has been plagued by injuries this year. If he’s not 100 per cent fit it would be a huge handicap for a team that relies on his pace.
On the bright side, the team has a magnificent crop of young players – “the best generation in Mexican history,” according to Aguirre. They are led by the golden duo of Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela, who are always better with El Tri than with their club sides.
But the real gems in the squad seem to be Javier Hernandez, Pablo Barrera and Efrain Juarez. Hernandez is arguably the best Mexican striker in a generation and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson seems to agree, having snapped up the 21-year-old for £6million before his value goes sky high during the World Cup.
Barrera is an electric winger and a sharp finisher, and he will be Aguirre’s ace for the second half during games in South Africa. As for Juarez, he’s a tireless right-back with a never-say-die attitude.
That all makes for a high-tempo, technical team; a sort of mini Spain. However, it’s obvious that they lack experience against top-level opposition, so the fans seem right to be divided. The reality is that Mexico are an unknown quantity with potential for the best and the worst in South Africa.
The view from Mexico
“Mexico lack teamwork, but the talent of most of their players in itself makes me think that the team should at least repeat their usual round-of-16 performance. But coach Aguirre will have the chance to work with most of his players for almost 40 days – and if he manages to develop a proper style of play, El Tri could be the surprise package of the tournament.”
Ricardo Puig, sports editor of Excelsior
“Mexico don’t lack ambition for this tournament. The mass media are talking about a ‘historic performance’ for the team in South Africa. However, I think it’s just a strategy to raise the ratings of their coverage as the team doesn’t have enough quality to go further than the round of 16. They might manage to get through their group but I don’t see how they can beat one of the qualified teams from Group B, possibly Argentina.”
Gerardo Velazquez de Leon, director at TVC Deportes