Why Brazil 2014 Has Been Mexico's Best Performance in World Cup History

Karla Villegas Gama@karlitsvFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2014

The Mexican team huddle together prior to the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between the Netherlands and Mexico at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, Sunday, June 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

In a seven-month span, Mexican fans and media went from thanking the United States—particularly Graham Zusi—for defeating Panama in the last matchday of the 2013 Hexagonal to believing in a man whose celebrations have gone viral.

Back in October, Miguel Herrera took over a team that was broken. Mexico went through their worst qualification process since 1981, which included a 2-5-3 record and three different coaches.

El Piojo called 23 footballers from the Liga MX to face New Zealand, whom they eventually defeated 9-3 on the aggregate score.

The World Cup ticket had been secured, but what was more important was that the country started to believe again.

Little by little, the faith that had been lost in 10 months was starting to grow again, while the mockery and the pain started to fade out.

Herrera had to work hard. He had very little time to put a team together for the most important football tournament in the world, and he ultimately did it.

The road was quite complicated.

The European-based players appeared just once with El Tri before Herrera released his final 23-man list.

The warm-ups left more doubts than answers, especially three weeks ahead of the World Cup.

Juan Carlos Medina suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him from Brazil. In Mexico's first game in the USA tour, Luis Montes fractured his tibia and fibula, leaving questions as to who could take over his place.

That wasn't all. El Tri lost 1-0 to both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Portugal just 10 days before the tournament started.

Herrera picked his starting XI a couple of days before the debut against Cameroon. Although every field player had locked their spot, the goalie was a mystery.

Could Mexico compete against Croatia and Brazil? Fans and media knew that the first game was key, because a win over the Indomitable Lions would not only mean three points, it would also mean that a draw with the Europeans could secure them a spot in the knockout stage.

Yes, before the World Cup most Mexicans thought that Brazil was going to trash El Tri, and they were not to blame because the team arrived with quite a record.

But what happened on June 13, 2014 was magical.

In the opening match, we saw a structured team that passed the ball accurately. The players didn't lose their minds when the linesman wrongfully disallowed two goals by Giovani dos Santos.

Instead, they kept grinding and never let go; they eventually won the game.

Mexico had secured the first three golden points, but, moreover, they put a whole country in dream mode.

El Tri came into the pitch fearless. They never showed overconfidence and came out to play their own game, something that had never happened before. Mexico was used to playing according to the rival, they settled for that.

Players like Francisco Rodriguez proved to us that experience can be way more valuable than youth. Dos Santos shut up a lot of critics with his powerful and creative game.

But the match that most of us thought couldn't be won made us dream a few times.

Mexico had never won a single point against Brazil in World Cups. History was about to change.

From the brilliant saves of Guillermo Ochoa to Hector Herrera's strokes of genius, El Tri fought hard and held off the host against all odds.

Once again, the hunger and pride stood up, and Mexico managed to sit second in the table, just because the goal difference was in Brazil's favor.

There was one concern, and it was the lack of goals. The match with Croatia cleared a lot of doubts in that department.

Rafael Marquez, Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez put the Europeans on their knees. Suddenly, the game that five days before seemed to be one of the toughest and most crucial for Mexico became another national fiesta.

Marquez told ESPN FC (Spanish) that this was the best World Cup he had lived to see so far. You have to trust the man who has captained El Tri in four editions of the tournament.

In a matter of days, El Piojo changed the perception of a whole country, while in the minds of his 23 players, Netherlands was a team that could be beaten.

For 87 minutes Mexico had the scale on their favor, until Wesley Sneijder defeated Ochoa with a powerful shot. After that, chaos took over, and El Tri became the first team to have been knocked out of the World Cup six-straight times in the round of 16.

But in those nine minutes (90'+6') something else happened. People forgot what the team had accomplished since Herrera was appointed manager but also what the future holds for Mexican football.

The squad had a historic chance on their hands, and, granted, they let it slip.

You can argue it was the referee's fault—whose mistakes harmed both sides—or that Mexico played like never before and lost like always—whichever comforts you the most is fine—but seriously look ahead.

Miguel Herrera played with a formation that allowed the team to move with more freedom and verticality.

His 5-3-2 system was key during the competition. He put Brazil and Croatia in distress and kept Netherlands on a leash.

He arrived in the round of 16 unbeaten, with a 2-1-0 record and as the side that has received the least number of goals in a World Cup disputed outside Mexico, according to FEMEXFUT (Spanish).

For the first time El Tri played as a team. They passed the ball, created opportunities through the flanks and went head-to-head with all four rivals.

Ochoa, Herrera, Dos Santos, Moreno and Jose Juan Vazquez proved that they are ready to tackle any challenge.

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 29: Head coach Miguel Herrera of Mexico reacts during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Netherlands and Mexico at Castelao on June 29, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

We have a new generation in front of us, and it has nothing to do with new players but with a new mentality.

El Piojo's job was titanic. He took a team that made the playoff vs. New Zealand, thanks to the victory of the archenemy, and turned it into one of the most refreshing and surprising sides of the tournament.

Herrera has already been ratified as Mexico manager until Russia 2018, which the director of national teams confirmed to Fox Sports, per Goal.com (Spanish).

If El Piojo can keep both rhythm and mindset, then expect big things from Mexico in the upcoming years.

This is just the beginning of a bright future. A team that reached the tournament with everything against them, with a fanbase full of doubts and in a matter of 180 minutes turns everything around in their favor deserves the benefit of the doubt.

The mariachis might have gone silent, but it's just momentarily.



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