With the 2014 FIFA World Cup officially underway—finally!—we bring you the next in an in-depth series of match previews that centre on tactics, team selections and predicted XIs.
With Brazil vs. Croatia in the books, we turn our attention to the second game in Group A: Mexico vs. Cameroon.
How Mexico Will Shape Up
Miguel Herrera has transformed Mexico's prospective World Cup chances in the space of just a few short months, picking them up a disheveled mess and leading them to Brazil as exciting, unpredictable contenders.
He was drafted in for the playoff victory over New Zealand to get into the tournament proper, and in the interest of cohesion and fitness, he only utilised domestic Liga MX-based players for the two legs.
His 3-5-2 system was swiftly installed and they ran rampant against the All Whites, creating chances for Oribe Peralta with ease and controlling the midfield through Luis Montes and Juan Carlos Medina.
Once that was done, Herrera began integrating European-based players into his XI steadily, keeping the same template but upgrading the quality on show. Montes and Medina have subsequently pulled out of the squad due to injury.
Mexico attack ferociously, quickly and directly, utilising a heavy dose of through balls to feed marauding attackers moving into the channels. Peralta excels at finding space, Giovani dos Santos makes a perfect link player and the wing-backs are aggressive and comfortable on the ball.
The ball is moved quickly between the lines and the formation shifts in possession, moving through various shapes to cover the gaps that open as players thrust forward.
How Cameroon Will Shape Up
As usual, Cameroon have been dogged by rumours of unrest and unhappiness within the camp in the lead-up to the finals—what else is new?
On the pitch they're attempting to rehab a reputation that has long been plummeting, with their nickname "The Indomitable Lions" no longer a statement of their prowess on the pitch.
As with most African sides, they're strong, physical fast and absurdly fit. They've incredible depth at centre-back and central midfield, and some interesting options are emerging on the flanks and up front, too.
Stephane M'Bia, Jean Makoun and Alex Song form the nexus of a strong midfield, and Cameroon could well play without true wingers in order to pack maximal talent into the centre of the park.
It's here they'll bully you and try to suck you into matching them one vs. one—a battle no one is going to win—and then flip the ball out wide to advanced full-backs Allan Nyom and Benoit Assou-Ekotto to counter.
Samuel Eto'o will play off the front man and drift into space, while Vincent Aboubakar will be looking to break beyond the line and snap up any chances falling his way.
Three Tactical Clashes
1. Contrasting Styles
We expect Group C's late-night match-up between Ivory Coast and Japan to be the ultimate clash of styles this summer, but Mexico vs. Cameroon isn't far shy.
Mexico play quick, direct, fast football using slight players who identify space and move into it; Cameroon play slower, more careful stuff focused on using their players' strength to their advantage.
It's a case of which philosophy wins out, though El Tri hold a significant continental advantage that could sway the contest.
2. No Wingers?
If Mexico use a narrow 3-5-2 (as opposed to their wide variant with one CM) and Cameroon choose their 4-4-1-1 diamond, it could signal the first game of the tournament in which no wingers are used.
That's not necessarily an issue, as teams often create width as and when they need to use it, but what is interesting will be comparing the two on how well they move into space to create.
Mexico will thrust vertically via wing-backs Miguel Layun and Andres Guardado, while Cameroon will do the same in conjunction with pushing a CM out to help create overloads.
3. Pace vs. Marquez & Co.
Mexico push their wing-backs high and ask them to commit, fully, to attacks down the channels. There's no real semblance of caution or balance in how they push forward, instead trusting a physical midfield selection to close off the space.
Should Cameroon go with a more traditional 4-3-3/4-4-1-1 look (no diamond), we could see Aboubakar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting/Benjamin Moukandjo in regular wide roles who can crucify Herrera's gung-ho philosophy.
All three have remarkable pace, and they can't be handled one vs. one in space.
B/R will do a tactical preview and review of every single 2014 FIFA World Cup game. Stay tuned to this link and check it every day for more.