B/R Exclusive: What Mexico Will Face in Crucial Match Against Croatia

Karla Villegas Gama@karlitsvFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2014

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 17:  Mexico players huddle during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Brazil and Mexico at Castelao on June 17, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)
Pool/Getty Images

Former Mexico coach Manuel Lapuente talked with Bleacher Report about Mexico's third World Cup match against Croatia.

El Tri must win or draw the game to advance to the knockout stage. If so, they will face Netherlands or Chile depending on Brazil's result in front of Cameroon.

Lapuente coached Mexico from 1997 to 2000. In that period, he secured the 1999 Confederations Cup and managed to qualify El Tri unbeaten to the round of 16 in France 1998.

He is currently part of Fox Deportes' show La Ultima Palabra.


Bleacher Report: Let's start talking about the game against Brazil.

Manuel Lapuente: It was a good game, but let's be clear when your goalkeeper is the best man on the pitch, it means your defense is shaky. However, taking into consideration that it's Brazil, of course, the keeper plays a key role.

Mexico did a great job, and they went out and faced them with intelligence. Mexico wanted to win, and that's what gave them the draw. They were powerful and created a couple of good goal opportunities.

I believe that we can hurt Croatia.


B/R: Croatia trashed Cameroon, but against Mexico they'll have a different scenario.

ML: To me that result was a bit misleading because in the first 30 minutes they were head-to-head, Cameroon were pushing hard. The debacle came when they lost a man due to a red card.

Mexico, due to their players and the way they are playing in the midfield, can have a good advantage.


B/R: Miguel Herrera has always praised ball possession, and Mexico are doing a great job in that area.

ML: Definitively, it doesn't mean that the game with Croatia is going to be easy. I think Mexico can win. Again the midfield is great because they dash any hope from the rivals' midfielders. If they keep doing the things they have done they will have a good result.

Herrera's system has worked just fine. His three-man line (Hector Herrera, Jose Juan Vazquez and Andres Guardado) can make a lot of damage to Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

Mexico must base their strategy in that line. They can't think that a draw is enough; they have to play for win, no doubt.


B/R: How about the back-wingers? How do you feel about Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar?

ML: They were in a hurry at the beginning of the past game. They lost balls and couldn't give Mexico that much depth because they were more focused in defending, which they did great.

Layun hasn't had they opportunity to put his deadly diagonals in the box; Aguilar hasn't been able to get to the goal line, so we need to see how they play.


B/R: What do Mexico need for the next game?

ML: They are in a good place, but Mexico need to be more flexible and release some pressure from the midfielders, like Herrera who was tired at the end of the game, and that's why the coach decided to bring Marco Fabian.

The manager has good subs that can help him change the way the match is being played.


B/R: Let's talk about Vazquez and Aguilar who were booked against Brazil, they play in key positions and cannot receive another yellow card if they want to play in the round of 16.

ML: First of all, Mexico need to think in making the knockout stage. The players know that there are some bookings that they have to risk—it's part of the game.


B/R: How should Mexico play against Croatia?

ML: Like they have done it so far. They have to attack and press them in every line; something like Uruguay did with England or Chile with Spain. That's the kind of game they need to play.They have to keep the ball and recover it as soon as possible when they leave it. They must play vertically with calm and intelligence.


B/R: You've been in a situation like this in France 1998, when Mexico needed to win or tie against Netherlands to qualify to the next stage, how's it like in the locker room?

ML: When things are good on the pitch, the locker room is always great. The opposite happens when the results are not there.

Another thing to point out is that despite the players' happiness, the subs are always anxious and better not talk about those that are not even receiving a minute.

If you want to grade a squad in that area, you must do it during hard times.


B/R: Speaking of mindset, who comes better into the match? Mexico that tied with the host or Croatia that sealed a key victory?

ML: I think that Mexico. Obviously Croatia need to win, while we have two good results. Mexico must be calm, not passive; that means they need to attack and keep the ball as much as possible so the Europeans start to worry.


B/R: What about Mexico's starting XI?

ML: I don't see why Herrera had to change anything. The defense has been good, the midfield has been key and the attacking zone could be better, but they have done a good job.


B/R: Mexico have scored once (aside from the two that were disallowed). Should this be worrying?

ML: What would be more worrying is that the team didn't have depth at all. They did have it against Cameroon; Herrera's tactic was good.

Mexico need to play through the center of the pitch not every opportunity has to be created through the flanks. Layun and Aguilar are taking a bit longer than usual to go up and down because they have to create and defend.

Giovani dos Santos is playing behind Oribe Peralta because he is the kind of guy why can give depth thought the center of the pitch.

Against Cameroon, dos Santos sent a fantastic through ball to Peralta, and he missed. Javier Hernandez also failed to score despite having a good chance.

Mexico had goal opportunities against Cameroon, and they failed to keep that pace with Brazil.


B/R: What's your prediction for the Croatia game?

ML: I think that Mexico win 2-0.


B/R: If that happens then Mexico would face Netherlands or Chile, what are your thoughts on that?

ML: Why don't we talk after this third game; one step at a time. I rather be and historian than a prophet.



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