The moment of truth is here. Mexico coach Miguel Herrera managed to plan the perfect strategy for the group stage and now he needs another one to stop Netherlands stars Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben.
El Piojo has amazed the world with his wit and flamboyant personality, but on the pitch he has done some sort of miracle with El Tri, as he changed the team's performance in just seven months.
Mexico barely qualified for the World Cup. The draw, held in December, was overwhelming, as Mexico found out that they had to face the hosts Brazil, as well as Croatia and Cameroon.
Despite it all, Herrera figured out the perfect starting XI for the three matches and he secured seven points with a 2-1-0 record.
Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa needs to be at his very best. His performance against Brazil was spectacular and he must be at the same level.
His leadership will be essential for the centre-backs. Since Jose Juan Vazquez will not play, Rafael Marquez will probably play as a libero, to support whoever takes El Gallito's place—that guy will be either Andres Guardado or Carlos Salcido.
Francisco Rodriguez and Hector Moreno will guard the center of the box. These two need to keep a tight defense on Van Persie, who enters the box quickly and knows how to avoid the offside trap.
Moreno commanded a couple of good counter-attacks against Croatia, mainly because he recovered seven balls, as reported by miseleccion.mx (Spanish).
Rodriguez has been one of the best ball feeders of the team. He has taken advantage of his height and build to win balls and put them to the feet of the wing-backs or midfielders 84 percent of the times he tried, according to Squawka.com.
The tricky part is the flanks. FIFA.com reported that at least 69 percent of Netherlands' attacks in the group-stage matches came from the flanks.
Robben has enough speed and strength to surprise Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layun. In that sense both Club America defenders need to slow down a little bit and put more attention in their defensive duties rather than in helping the attacking zone as often as they have been doing.
This is when Herrera's formation needs to be 5-3-2, like happened against Brazil, rather than 3-5-2, as we saw vs. Croatia and Cameroon.
Layun has been erratic in the back line. He has been successful only in one take-on out of five and has only completed 76 percent of his passes, as per Squawka.com.
Aguilar has put in better performances at the back, but in all fairness Rodriguez has been part of that success.
Marquez will have a monumental job. He will not only help to contain Wesley Sneijder, but will also have to support the midfield, from where Nigel de Jong and Jonathan de Guzman feed balls to the forwards.
Rafa's experience will be his best resource to take over the task.
The loss of Vazquez—he received two yellow cards in the groups stage—can harm Mexico badly.
For starters, Herrera needs to make a decision regarding his replacement. He can go with Salcido—who has over 120 caps with the national team but might not be as physically fit as will be needed—or with Guardado, who has been at his finest hour but sending him to the center of the pitch would mean losing him on the left flank.
Of course El Piojo can count on Carlos Pena to take over Guardado's spot, but the question is if El Gullit is ready to tackle the challenge, especially since he has only played 11 minutes in the World Cup.
The central midfielder has to be synced with Marquez and ready to cut the Oranje's routes. If he manages to do so, Robben and Van Persie could have a tough time creating goal opportunities.
The right flank is one of Mexico's strongest elements. Hector Herrera has done a fantastic job so far. He presses the rival and feeds balls to the forwards.
His long-distance shot is powerful and his dribbling skills have allowed him to run all the way to the goal line or even to the heart of box.
On the left, it could be Guardado, Pena or even Marco Fabian. The good thing about Fabian is that he's very fast, his long-distance shot is fantastic and he has played more than Pena so far.
Either way, the right and left midfielders have to be intelligent and accurate to compensate Layun and Aguilar's absence, since they will be busier than in previous games.
Also, they have to keep the ball as much as possible and contain the counter-attacks. If Mexico's midfield is shaky, Robben and Van Persie will have a field day.
There has to be a lot of pressure on the defense and goal opportunities, which El Tri have done in the past with speed, ball possession and verticality.
Herrera's options in the front line are Giovani dos Santos, Javier Hernandez and Oribe Peralta. Raul Jimenez and Alan Pulido don't stand a chance of starting the game.
It might seem like the forwards have nothing to do with stopping Van Persie and Robben, but as long as they keep pushing and shooting, the Europeans' options in El Tri's box can be minimized.
Australia managed to push them through the flanks, with diagonals and long passes. Mexico are very good with both and they have to take advantage of it.
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