Mexico is one of the mystery teams heading into the 2014 World Cup. The side features enough talent to make the knockout rounds, yet played most of the cycle like a group destined for a quick exit after barely making the showcase tournament.
El Tri begin the event alongside Croatia, Cameroon and the host nation of Brazil in Group A. It's a pool that certainly leaves the door open for advancement, but there won't be an easy match, which could be a problem for a squad that's lacked consistency.
With that in mind, let's examine Mexico's World Cup roster along with a projection of its starting lineup, as denoted by the highlighted players. We'll follow that up with the team's schedule for the group stage and some predictions.
Roster and Starting XI Projection
|GK||Jesus Corona||Cruz Azul|
|MF||Andres Guardado||Bayer Leverkusen|
|MF||Jose Juan Vazquez||Leon|
|MF||Marco Fabian||Cruz Azul|
|FW||Javier Hernandez||Manchester United|
|FW||Giovani dos Santos||Villarreal|
Roster: FIFA.com; Lineup Based on 5-3-2 Formation
Group Schedule and Predictions
|June 13||12 p.m.||Cameroon|
|June 17||3 p.m.||Brazil|
|June 23||4 p.m.||Croatia|
There's a school of thought that suggests Mexico should try to force as much attacking talent into the lineup as possible. Manager Miguel Herrera seems content to stick with the players who've enjoyed good form under his watch.
In turn, Javier Hernandez and Marco Fabian are among the big names who could start on the bench in the opener. Things could obviously change if Mexico get off to a slow start and get desperate heading into their second or third group match.
Perhaps the toughest single choice comes in goal. Guillermo Ochoa and Jesus Corona have both done enough to earn the start, which is a blessing and a curse. Justin Churchill of Goal passed along comments from Herrera, who said it will come down to the wire:
After this game it is a little more tough. Corona and Ochoa both did a great job. During the week, we are going to keep suffering to decide who is going to be the starting goalie.
Mexico opens with Cameroon and a positive result. If El Tri lose their first match ahead of a clash with Brazil, there's a strong chance they will head into the group finale already eliminated. They need at least a draw, and preferably all three points.
It's a good matchup. The Indomitable Lions have shown weakness defensively against quality opponents. They allowed five goals against Portugal earlier in the year and two goals to both Paraguay and Germany during the World Cup build-up.
For a side in Mexico that was shut out in each of its final two warm-up friendlies, it's a chance to get the attack on track before tougher tests against Brazil and Croatia.
As a whole, the group is pretty favorable. As the other CONCACAF teams found out, landing in a good group out of Pot 3 in the draw proved very difficult. In fact, The New York Times rates El Tri's draw luck as the best of any national team:
It certainly won't feel that way when when Mexico face Brazil in what amounts to an extremely high-profile road match.
The last thing El Tri wants is for the second fixture to turn into a wide-open offensive showcase. In fact, depending on how the opening matches in the group go, a 1-0 loss might even be an acceptable result for Herrera's group.
That's because the most likely scenario will see Brazil playing Cameroon with a chance to lock up the top spot in Group A while the Mexico-Croatia match should determine who gets the berth in the knockout rounds.
Where will Mexico finish in Group A?
If both beat Cameroon, one side will have the advantage of playing for the draw. So playing Brazil second, after that initial wave of added energy host teams usually exhibit in the first match of the tournament has subsided, should be an advantage.
Mexico and Croatia are pretty even overall. El Tri are stronger defensively and the Blazers have more depth on the attack, but there's no major edge for either side. That makes having the draw option on your side a key factor.
Ultimately, look for Mexico to beat Cameroon, escape with only a narrow loss against Brazil and then draw Croatia. There will be plenty of tense moments along the way, but it should be enough for Mexico to advance.
Beyond that, it's hard to imagine El Tri making any type of serious run since they would have to play the winner of Group B, which will likely be Spain. But getting to the knockout round would be an accomplishment, and it could provide Mexico with some momentum heading into the next cycle.