Mexico: Laying out Their World Cup Battles Ahead in the Hexagonal Stage
Everything is ready for the CONCACAF hexagonal. Mexico will have to make its best effort against Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama and the United States to secure a spot in the 2014 World Cup.
El Tri has played in every World Cup since 1994 and has had an overall good performance in the qualifying stage; however, the feat will not be easy, as their rivals have improved over the years.
Mexico will not lose a single game on home soil, even though the match against the United States will be the toughest. José Manuel de la Torre's squad is bound to grab at least one point.
The real challenge will come when they have to travel. Let's take a look to the battles Mexico must face.
This is one of the toughest rivalries in CONCACAF. Mexico and Costa Rica have played 46 matches. El Tri has recorded 27 wins, 14 draws and 5 defeats.
Make no mistake, the Ticos have come along way since the 2001 Aztecazo, the first time Mexico lost a qualifying match on home soil.
Los Verdes must perform near to perfection when they play at the Estadio Nacional, one of the toughest arenas in CONCACAF and a place they have not lost at since 1994.
Costa Rica's attacking force is led by Álvaro Saborío, Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruíz. Ruiz currently plays for Fulham and had a successful career in Belgium and the Netherlands.
This brings us to Mexico's backbone.
José Manuel de la Torre needs to put up a strong defense, especially in the sidelines.
The Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano has always been hard for Mexico; they have not won there since 1994.
Honduras defeated El Tri twice in the 2010 World Cup qualifying stage; first at the semifinals, 1-0, then at the hexagonal, 3-1.
Honduras becomes a lethal rival on home soil, despite the lack of strength in the defense.
Maynor Figueroa, one of the veterans, is the man in charge of the back line, but despite his experience, both with the national team and Wigan Athletic, he does not get a lot of help from his teammates.
Mexico needs to take advantage of this, especially from the band.
Andrés Guardado and Javier Aquino can become valuable assets in this mission.
Controlling the midfield will be the key. This is where Jorge Enríquez and Giovani dos Santos will be handy.
Mexico has faced Jamaica 10 times in World Cup qualifiers; El This has won seven times, tied once and lost twice (while playing away).
It is true that Los Verdes have a new generation of footballers, but so do The Reggae Boyz.
Many Jamaican footballers have left their country and currently play in the MLS, England's the Championship and Sweden's Allsvenskan.
The Caribbean players may not have the best technique, but they have something few teams posses: speed.
This is the reason why Mexico needs to control the midfield and stay focused.
Los Verdes have to make their own game and set the pace. Expect a match ruled by fouls and long passes if this goes the other way.
Giovani dos Santos would be a good choice for this one.
He is fast and resourceful. In the back line, Héctor Moreno and Francisco Rodríguez must be at their best to stop Luton Shelton, Jamaica's all-time top scorer.
It’s been three years since these two faced off in the Gold Cup.
Panama is the only squad in the hexagonal that has not defeated El Tri and is probably the weakest among the competition.
The last time Los Canaleros played the final stage of the CONCACAF qualifier was in 2006 when they finished last with two draws and eight defeats.
Their most emblematic footballer is Felipe Baloy. He is well-known in Mexico’s local league and a cornerstone of the team.
He will give Javier Hernández and Oribe Peralta—his teammate in Santos Laguna—a hard time.
Baloy is a strong centre-back who can also play as a right-back. “Chicharito” must take advantage of his speed to overcome “Pipe’s” physical superiority.
Luis Tejeda, who also plays in the Liga MX, is Panama’s best striker. He needs support from the midfield in order to create a goal opportunity, a tough feat for Gabriel Gómez and Amílcar Herníquez.
Mexico should not have a problem at the Estadio Rommel Fernández.
Mexico and the United States will meet for the 26th and 27th time in a World Cup qualifier.
El Tri knows that the Yanks are no longer a weak team.
They won for the first time on Mexican soil two months ago during a friendly at the Estadio Azteca.
It’s true that some of Mexico’s top players did not play, but neither did several key American footballers.
The USA needs to take advantage of Clint Dempsey’s momentum and technique as well as Herculez Gómez speed, fine touch and knowledge of Mexican football.
The game is likely to take place at Columbus Crew Stadium, a venue where El Tri has suffered three consecutive defeats (2002, 2006 and 2010).
Keep an eye on the midfield.
Mexico usually leaves it unattended, giving the Yanks great opportunities to counterattack. This is where Graham Zusi’s ball-touch and Eddie Johnson’s control can make the difference.
The Mexican strikers cannot waste chances as they have in the past.
Geoff Cameron has some trouble in the centre-back, but Oguchi Onyewu should be back for the hexagonal to partner with Carlos Bocanegra.
Javier Aquino, Giovani dos Santos and Andrés Guardado will be the difference-makers for El Tri. Their speed and unbalancing skills can trump the United States' dream of taking first place.