Mexican soccer legend and goalkeeper Martin "El Pulpo" Zuniga played for Chivas de Guadalajara from 1995 to 1999 and again in 2002. He also wore El Tri's jersey. He is in San Antonio on behalf of Allstate, the exclusive insurance sponsor of the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) for the past eight years.
Zuniga talked with Bleacher Report about Mexico's friendly against South Korea and what the future holds for Miguel Herrera's side.
Bleacher Report: After all the drama, Mexico qualified for the World Cup, barely.
Martin Zuniga: Yeah, you are right, we barely made it and I think it’s time for a clean slate and forget about the bad moments. I love the scenario that Miguel Herrera gives us; his joyful way to coach his teams translates in good results. He has been very intelligent because he will not have much time to work with the national team so he has taken shortcuts, like bringing a base of players he already knows [Club America] and mix them with several footballers from Leon, the latest champion of the Liga MX.
B/R: How do you see Herrera ahead of Brazil 2014?
MZ: I think he will get to the World Cup more relaxed because he didn’t coach the team through the four-year process, which usually brings a lot of pressure. Many times the managers get to this kind of event worn out, mainly from what happens outside the pitch.
B/R: Can you talk about the South Korea national team?
MZ: It will not be an easy rival; they beat Costa Rica 1-0 a couple of days ago. It is true that South Korea lack some of their key players, but that doesn’t mean they are not dangerous. They run, they fight every ball and are very well-organized.
B/R: Many believe they don’t have a good level, precisely because they come with a B team.
MZ: The positive thing of this scenario is that Herrera will line up new footballers. He will give a chance to players like Alan Pulido, who has been great at the local league, Miguel Ponce and other players who can provide different options to Herrera’s 5-3-2 system. He needs to keep his mind open and see which players are fit for the challenge.
B/R: How should Mexico play against South Korea?
MZ: Herrera has always had the same system and I don’t see why he should change it. He needs to take advantage of the power of the Leon footballers, like Luis Montes and Carlos Pena.
B/R: Which overseas players do you think Herrera should call for the FIFA date in March?
MZ: I think he needs to convince Carlos Vela, which is a matter that has been pending for years. Herrera can make it happen, Vela is the best Mexican right now. I believe that Javier Hernandez, despite not playing much, has earned his right to be on the team. Guillermo Ochoa deserves a chance, also Giovani dos Santos, but the coach needs to let him know what he expects from him, Hector Moreno is a must and finally Guardado, but it is important that he goes back to his golden days.
B/R: There’s a great crop of footballers right now, but the attacking zone seems to have more options than any other line, don’t you think?
MZ: It would be really nice that every coach had this problem. Herrera has a wide range of options: Peralta, Vela, Hernandez, dos Santos, you name it. The real challenge is to let them know that they have to compete for the two spots available. Peralta may be ahead because he has been a key element so far, but he is not the only one.
B/R: What is the importance of the Liga MX in this process?
MZ: The competition is better and there are a lot of youngsters who have great assets and skills.
B/R: Mexico’s preparation must be first class because El Tri’s group in the World Cup is very diverse.
MZ: Now more than ever the national team must work with quality rather than with quantity. We have five friendly games ahead and less than five months for the big event. That is why Herrera will continue to call several players from Club America and others from Leon.
B/R: Do you see any Mexican who could make it big after Brazil?
MZ: Pena without a doubt. He is one of the few footballers who can recuperate the ball but moreover attack and provide depth to the team. The World Cup will give him the opportunity to put himself in the spotlight. He will come back to Mexico just to get his bags because he has a great chance to leave for Europe. He can make a good career over there.
Prediction: Mexico 2-1