Complete A-Z of Mexico's 2014 World Cup Campaign

Karla Villegas Gama@karlitsvFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2014

Complete A-Z of Mexico's 2014 World Cup Campaign

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    Mexico's 15th World Cup appearance had a refreshing start but a bittersweet ending.

    El Tri took fans and media alike through a roller coaster of emotions thanks to their surprising style of play and the introduction of youngsters, which definitely changed the perspective of what future holds for Mexican football.

    From refereeing scandals to unbelievable celebrations from coach Miguel Herrera, the team left Brazil as one of the most promising nations for Russia 2018.

    Here's the A-Z of Mexico's 2014 World Cup campaign.

A. Arena Das Dunas

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    Mexico's first victory came at Arena das Dunas, located in Natal in the north east of Brazil.

    El Tri faced Cameroon hoping to make history by defeating an African squad in a World Cup for the first time.

    It was a key match on paper because Mexico vs. Croatia would decide which squad would take the second spot of Group A in the last match of the group stage.

    El Tri controlled the match and eventually defeated the Indomitable Lions 1-0 with a goal from Oribe Peralta.

    According to FIFA.com, the attendance was 39,216.

B. Bench

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    Miguel Herrera decided to leave some of Mexico's most promising players on the bench.

    Carlos Pena, who had been a cornerstone throughout the warm-up fixtures, and Raul Jimenez, the same kid that scored a bicycle-kick goal at the Estadio Azteca, were left out of the starting XI.

    Other players who came in as substitutes were Marco Fabian, Carlos Salcido, Javier Hernandez and Javier Aquino.

    Alan Pulido, Jesus Corona, Alfredo Talavera, Miguel Ponce and Isaac Brizuela didn't receive a single minute.

    Diego Reyes only left the bench because Hector Moreno couldn't continue on the pitch in the match against the Netherlands.

C. Coach

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    Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

    Think of the most charismatic coach of the tournament and Miguel Herrera will come to your mind for sure.

    The Mexico manager amazed the world with his epic goal celebrations and flamboyant personality.

    Herrera was appointed El Tri boss on October 2013, just days after the team had finished fourth in the Hexagonal, which meant they had to face New Zealand in a two-legged playoff to secure their World Cup ticket.

    El Piojo's team only included players from the Liga MX. They eventually won 9-3 on aggregate.

    After that, he brought back the European-based footballers and put together a squad that was dynamic, vertical and refreshing.

    Herrera's passion impregnated his whole squad. He tweeted, photobombed and became an internet personality—take a look at this compilation by The Guardian.

D. Determination

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    There were many doubts surrounding Mexico following their worst qualification process in 32 years.

    They performed well in warm-up games against South Korea's B-team, United States, Israel and Ecuador.

    However, when they faced Bosnia and Herzegovina and Portugal, it was clear that Miguel Herrera's side lacked depth, creativity and pace.

    But the team shut their critics up as soon as the second group-stage match ended. 

    El Tri's determination throughout the tournament was key to them showing the world that they were not as weak as everyone thought.

    They wanted to make history. Even Rafael Marquez told ESPN FC (Spanish) that in the four World Cups he has played in, he had never felt so inspired, determined and committed to the team.

E. Experienced Players

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    Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press

    Miguel Herrera included some very experienced players on his team.

    Rafael Marquez, Carlos Salcido and Francisco Rodriguez once again appeared in a World Cup.

    Although Salcido only played one match as starter, due to Jose Juan Vazquez's suspension, Marquez and Rodriguez were instrumental in El Tri's performance.

    Both centre-backs proved that experience is key in this sort of tournament, so it's no wonder that they played all four games.

    If age was in their favor, they would most certainly be on several European clubs' radars.

F. Fans

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    Wrestling masks, hats, paint, a lot of props and the Cielito Lindo were the tools El Tri fans used to get behind their team.

    As of June 5 and according to FIFA (via Forbes), Mexicans had bought 33,694 World Cup tickets.

    They were loud, energetic, loyal and supportive, which says a lot from a group that seven months earlier didn't believe in the team.

    In three of their four games, Mexico seemed to be playing on home turf. Many shouted outside of El Tri's hotel: "And so you see, and so you see, we are the home team again."

    Así suena la Arena Pernambuco. https://t.co/74mielfrj6

    — Gibrán Araige (@GibranAraige) June 23, 2014

G. Guardado

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    Andres Guardado had his second wind at just the right moment.

    Although he has been playing in Europe since 2007, he hadn't had the best season with Valencia and was loaned to Bayer Leverkusen.

    Guardado only appeared seven times with the German club, as reported by ESPN FC. Despite this, Miguel Herrera decided to give him a chance.

    It seemed difficult that the midfielder could secure the starting position as Carlos Pena was performing well. However, Guardado stepped up and used his experience to tip the scale in his favor.

    Once in Brazil, he became a driving force for El Tri. FIFA.com registered 10 recovered balls, six tackles won and one block.

H. Herrera

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    It turns out that Mexico had a crack in their squad and just a handful of people knew about it. Hector Herrera showed the world how good he is by taking over El Tri's midfield in style.

    He helped Jose Juan Vazquez when he was in distress, joined the attack with long-distance shots and fed balls to his teammates on a regular basis.

    Before the World Cup, Herrera had appeared 27 times with Porto. He played well enough in Portugal but did nothing out of this world.

    Thankfully for Miguel Herrera, the kid who was once named Best Player of the Toulon Tournament had quite an impact on the team.

    According to Squawka.com, he created 11 chances and had 82 percent of pass accuracy.

I. Injury

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    Hector Moreno was having a great tournament before he suffered a fractured tibia after a tackle in the round of 16.

    The Espanyol defender had been an undisputed starter throughout the World Cup, but his injury meant he had to leave his spot to Diego Reyes.

    It was a tough blow for Mexico as they were still tied with the Oranje and at the time didn't know how serious the injury was.

    It was later confirmed that Moreno had to undergo surgery to fix the tibia and that he would miss six months of competitive play, per FIFA.com.

J. Javier Hernandez

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    A year before the World Cup, anyone would have sworn that Javier Hernandez would start every single game.

    But a lot can happen in 12 months, such as a scoreless streak.

    Chicharito bagged his 35th goal with El Tri at the 2013 Confederations Cup.

    Hernandez scored twice against Japan in the last game of the group stage. That brace helped him tie Carlos Hermosillo and Luis Hernandez as Mexico's third-highest goalscorer of all time.

    But the Manchester United footballer had to wait one year to surpass Hermosillo and Hernandez.

    Chicharito scored El Tri's third goal against Croatia, coincidentally also the last matchday of the group stage.

    Now he sits alone in the third position of Mexico's top scorers' table, just three goals shy of Cuauhtemoc Blanco in second.

K. Kovac

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    Croatia boss Niko Kovac decided to make some statements during his pre-match press conference that were more like trash talk. 

    According to the Associated Press (H/T Fox News):

    I think if there's someone who's knees should be shaking in this moment, it's [there's] and [ours].

    His tactic didn't work out and Miguel Herrera managed to prove him wrong on the pitch, which also put an end to a very disappointing World Cup campaign for the Europeans.

L. Layun

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Miguel Layun was fantastic in the two-legged playoff against New Zealand and in the warm-up games, but he couldn't fulfill the expectations in the World Cup.

    The Club America wing-back had an average pass accuracy of 76 percent and only won 55 percent of the duels in which he was involved, as reported by Squawka.com.

    The flanks are key in Miguel Herrera's formation, as they provide depth and also feed balls to the forwards and midfielders.

    However, from the seven crosses Layun sent to the box versus Cameroon, he completed one and another was a key pass.

    In the next game, he only put three balls into the area and just one was considered key.

    Against Croatia, he only sent in two crosses and his success rate was equivalent to zero.

    Finally, in the round of 16, he took his chances three times with the same number of fails.

    Layun tried to take advantage of his fine touch and shot from outside the box five times, but only one was on target.

M. Marquez

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    Rafael Marquez became the first player in World Cup history to wear the captain's armband in four editions. He did it in Korea and Japan 2002, Germany 2006, South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014.

    Marquez also became the second Mexican to score in three different World Cups, as he put the ball away in Germany, South Africa and against Croatia at Brazil 2014.

    Despite being a 35-year-old veteran, the Leon defender played as if he was a youngster. He led the team's back line in style, plus he took the libero position when Jose Juan Vazquez needed to be in a more offensive role.

    His epic performance against Croatia, which included five solo runs into the attacking third and a total distance covered of 10,097 meters, per FIFA.com, earned him the Man of the Match award.

N. Nice Numbers

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    Mexico should be very proud as they secured their best performance in a World Cup held outside home soil.

    Miguel Herrera's boys grabbed seven points and went undefeated during the group stage for the third time in history—the other two were when El Tri hosted the tournament.

    They only conceded three goals and scored five, their second- and third-best marks respectively.

O. Ochoa

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    Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

    Two words can describe Mexico's success at the back, especially against the host: Guillermo Ochoa.

    Ochoa performed well against Cameroon and Croatia, although both games were less demanding for the Mexican.

    The former Ajaccio keeper had the night of his life versus Brazil at Estadio Castelao. Ochoa made six saves, covered 3,977 meters and registered a top speed of 17.53 km/h, per FIFA.com.

    Netherlands was quite a challenge too. Despite all, FIFA.com reported that he kept his goal unbeaten for 88 minutes, made two crucial saves and covered 4,293 meters.

    Ochoa received the Man of the Match award twice, versus the Verde-Amarela and the Oranje.

P. Penalty Kick

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    Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

    Was it a penalty kick? This is one play that will be remembered forever. 

    The round-of-16 referee determined that Rafael Marquez fouled Arjen Robben and gave the Netherlands a stoppage-time penalty kick.

    It ultimately turned into the Oranje's winning goal, as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar became only the third footballer to beat Guillermo Ochoa in the tournament.

    Mexican fans created lots of memes (H/T MedioTiempo.com) with the phrase "No Era Penal" (it wasn't a penalty), which later turned into a hashtag and trending topic on Twitter.

Q. Quarterfinals... Not Yet

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    Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press

    Many thought that this could actually be Mexico's shot to get through to the fifth game of a World Cup.

    El Tri held off the Dutch in the first half by keeping the ball and passing it around. Giovani dos Santos scored the opener at the beginning of the second half, while the Netherlands still couldn't find the way to harm Los Verdes.

    However, the Europeans turned the score around and left Mexico dreaming of the quarterfinals for the sixth consecutive World Cup.

    El Tri are the only team to have been eliminated in the round of 16 that many times.

R. Refereeing

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    Mexico had some issues with the referees.

    The most worrisome came in the opening match against Cameroon; the linesman wrongfully disallowed a couple of goals by Giovani dos Santos.

    Then, versus Croatia, the referee didn't mark a couple of clear handballs, which would have given El Tri two penalty kicks.

    Perhaps the most controversial play came in the knockout stage, when the referee gave Netherlands a penalty kick due to a foul on Arjen Robben.

S. Scoreless Draw

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    It was almost expected that Mexico wouldn't grab points from their second game, since they were to face Brazil.

    The host controlled the first minutes of the match but little by little El Tri pushed them hard and grew stronger.

    FIFA.com reported that Mexico had 13 attempts, compared to Brazil's 14, and while ball possession favored the Verde-Amarela (54 percent), it wasn't very far from that of Los Verdes (46 percent).

    Guillermo Ochoa was instrumental in the scoreless draw, making six saves and being named Man of the Match.

    The result was key for Miguel Herrera's side because it meant they only needed to tie with Croatia to secure a place in the knockout stage.

T. Triumph vs. Croatia

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    Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press

    Mexico had proven to be a strong and competitive side. Their pace and hunger had been amazing but there was one issue to solve despite all: the squad had only scored once.

    The first half was rough for both teams. Croatia pressed El Tri hard but they managed to keep it together.

    It wasn't until the 72nd minute that Mexico roared with a fantastic header from Rafael Marquez. Two minutes later, Andres Guardado put the ball away again and Javier Hernandez made it three in the 82nd minute.

    For the first time in the World Cup, El Tri showed their real power in the attacking zone.

U. Unbeaten

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    According to Odds Shark, Brazil and Croatia entered the World Cup with better odds than Mexico.

    After El Tri's shameful qualifying process, the injuries of Luis Montes and Juan Carlos Medina and a couple of defeats to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Portugal ahead the tournament, it seemed like Mexico had little chance of advancing to the round of 16.

    Against all odds, El Tri surprised the world and went unbeaten in the group stage with victories over Cameroon and Croatia and a goalless draw with Brazil.

V. Vazquez

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    Jose Juan Vazquez was appointed central midfielder in Mexico's last warm-up game, against Portugal.

    Juan Carlos Medina was supposed to be the starter, but he was sidelined due to an ankle injury.

    El Gallito assumed the position in Miguel Herrera's 5-3-2 system and didn't disappoint, despite having played only four games with El Tri before his World Cup debut versus Cameroon.

    Vazquez's average pass accuracy was 91 percent, the highest of the squad, he created two goal opportunities and registered five interceptions, according to Squawka.com.

    FIFA.com also reported that El Gallito recovered nine balls in three matches.

    He was by far the best option for such a key role.

W. Water Break

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    Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

    Netherlands tried hard to tie the game against Mexico but it seemed more like an impossible mission for Louis van Gaal, at least until the second-half water break.

    The Dutch manager changed his strategy and went with a different formation that eventually put Mexico in distress and cracked the deadlock.

    After the 2-1 victory, Van Gaal recognized that the break couldn't have come in a better moment. As quoted by Sky Sports:

    I first changed to a 4-3-3 and then we created a lot of opportunities with a shot on the post and a fantastic save.

    Then I moved to plan B and yes, I did that in the cooling break. That is a clever way of benefiting from these breaks.

    Did you see what I did?

X. Starting XI

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    From January to June, Mexico had seven warm-up fixtures, but Miguel Herrera hadn't picked a starting XI despite the continuous experiments.

    His main doubt was the goalkeeper, as both Jose de Jesus Corona and Guillermo Ochoa had been starters with their respective clubs.

    On June 12, Herrera tweeted his lineup:

    Mañana arrancamos nuestra participación con Memo, Rafa, Maza, Moreno, Paul, Layun, Vazquez, Herrera, Guardado, Oribe y Gio.

    — Miguel Herrera (@MiguelHerreraDT) June 12, 2014

    The wait was worth it, and thanks to the footballers' performances, El Piojo repeated the starting XI in the following games.

Y. Youth

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    Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

    Miguel Herrera capped a bunch of young players whose speed and hunger helped Mexico perform like never before.

    Giovani dos Santos scored against Netherlands, and his shot accuracy was 100 percent in the whole tournament, as per Squawka.com.

    Hector Herrera and Jose Juan Vazquez took control of the midfield, giving Mexico flexibility and depth.

    Marco Fabian gave El Tri calm in the last minutes of the Cameroon and Brazil games.

    Diego Reyes did a good job versus the Oranje, despite not having played a single minute of the group stage and coming in as an emergency sub for the injured Hector Moreno.

    This generation is ready to command the revolution of Mexican football in the upcoming years.

Z. Zero

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    After 267 minutes of play Mexico had received zero goals.

    That means Guillermo Ochoa wasn't beat versus Cameroon and Brazil, and he only conceded a goal to Croatia in the 87th minute of El Tri's 3-1 win.

    Nigeria also had one win and one draw after two games, but conceded their first goal against Argentina just three minutes after the first whistle of their final group-stage game.

    That means that El Tri's goal was unbeaten for more minutes than that of any other team in the World Cup during the group stage—84 more than their closest rival, Nigeria.