After a long four years, the World Cup is finally back. Mexico and Cameroon have qualified, and while that’s an achievement in itself, the two teams aren’t exactly heading into the tournament with a lot of confidence or momentum.
Friday’s World Cup Group A match will prove to be a pivotal one if either team wants to make it out of a group that also includes Croatia and favorite Brazil.
A victory Friday would put the winner in a good position to challenge for a second-place finish, while a defeat would put the loser in a daunting hole.
Can Mexico find the net?
The Mexican national team—which will participate in their sixth consecutive World Cup—barely qualified for this year’s tournament. An injury-time, 3-2 comeback victory by the United States over Panama and an aggregate playoff victory over New Zealand preserved Mexico’s streak, but whether the team makes the most of its opportunity remains to be seen.
Mexico have yet to show much consistency on offense. The team scored six goals in impressive victories over Ecuador and Israel in May, but failed to put the ball in the net in 1-0 defeats to Portugal and Bosnia and Herzegovina earlier this month.
Javier Hernandez has scored 35 goals for the national team, but he will start the match on the bench in favor of Giovani dos Santos and Oribe Peralta.
The Manchester United striker did not play much for his club team last season and his form hasn’t been as sharp as it has been in years past, persuading Mexico coach Miguel Herrera to make “Chicharito” a sub rather than a starter.
However, per Ben McAleer of The Huffington Post, that might benefit both Hernandez and the team:
As a result, many feel he is better served coming off the bench. 53 of his 101 league appearances for United have come as a substitute, while no player has scored more substitute goals than Hernández (14) in the last four seasons. As an impact player, Hernández is seemingly the ideal candidate, such are his scoring exploits when starting on the bench.
Against tiring defences, his energy and willingness to play as high up the pitch as possible is an effective weapon to call on and one United looked to exploit in the last four seasons. Lamentably though, this limited Hernández's starts, especially last term, and it looks as though a similar pattern may occur for his country this summer, which isn't a bad thing for Mexico.
If Herrera’s strategy pays off, Mexico’s attack could very well regain its potent form.
Which Cameroon team will show up?
Like Mexico, Cameroon haven't been the model for consistency as of late. The team notched victories over Moldova and Macedonia—not exactly elite competition—while also earning an inspiring 2-2 draw with Germany. However, the same squad also lost to Paraguay and suffered an embarrassing 5-1 defeat to Portugal.
To make matters worse, the Cameroon national team almost didn’t even make it to Brazil. According to Gerald Imray of the London Evening Standard, the players initially refused to fly to the World Cup host country unless a dispute over bonus payments was settled. That does not sound like a team ready to play its best football on the world's largest stage.
Cameroon’s fate may rely on the foot of Samuel Eto’o. The four-time African Player of the Year award winner is Cameroon’s star striker—netting 56 goals in 117 appearances—and he can still score at the age of 33. He has played in three World Cups and there's a good chance that this one will be his last.
It will be interesting to see which Cameroon team will show up against Mexico. If they are the squad that impressed against Germany, Mexico could be in trouble. But if they are the team that fell flat against Portugal, they will struggle against the Mexican national team.
Both teams come out a little timid, but Mexico find the net with a first-half Dos Santos goal, while Cameroon tie it up just before half, thanks to a strike from Eto’o. The Mexicans play much more cohesively in the second half, exposing Cameroon’s defense to score two more goals, including one from Hernandez off the bench. Mexico grab three big points to begin group play.
Final Score: Mexico 3, Cameroon 1
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