Mexico seeks crisis relief at Confed Cup
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -RIO DE JANEIRO (AP)
When Mexico opens its Confederations Cup campaign against Italy on Sunday at the Maracana stadium, it will be seeking relief from a dismal World Cup qualifying campaign.
The Central American side has won just one of six qualifiers with three goals scored, and failed to find the target at all in its last two drawn matches against Panama and Costa Rica, putting coach Jose Manuel De la Torre's job at risk.
''We know that we come from a difficult situation in qualifying but this is a different tournament,'' De la Torre said Saturday. ''We came here to enjoy it, do our best and aim for nothing less than winning it.''
Mexico has qualified for the last five World Cups and reached the semifinals at its last Confederations Cup appearance in 2005.
''You play differently in a qualifier then in a competition like the Confederations Cup,'' De la Torre said. ''I see the team much more relaxed here.''
Mexico is counting on its opponents using more open and offensive tactics compared to what it has faced in qualifying, but De la Torre's side will face a serious challenge against Italy, which it has beaten just once in 11 meetings.
''When you play qualifiers teams close down and don't leave much space and then if you press forward too much that opens up spaces behind and they can attack you,'' De la Torre said. ''Here it should be different.''
Mexico is desperately hoping to rekindle the form that took it to the gold medal at last year's Olympics, with many of the young players who tasted success in London now members of the senior team.
Its key player remains Manchester United striker Javier ''Chicharito'' Hernandez.
Hernandez lost his starting position this season with United, but still scored 18 goals. He has 50 in three seasons in England and has scored 32 goals in 50 games with the national team.
''The team has quality across the board in all positions,'' De la Torre said. ''It's key to relax and find the harmony that we need.''
Mexico beat Italy for the first time in their last meeting, winning a pre-World Cup friendly 2-1 in Brussels in 2010. It also held Italy to 1-1 draws in the group phase of the 1994 and 2004 World Cups.
However, 2010 marked a low point for Italy with a first-round exit from the World Cup as defending champion. Cesare Prandelli replaced Marcello Lippi after that tournament and guided the Azzurri to the final of last year's European Championship.
The axis of the Euro 2012 run - goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, midfielder Andrea Pirlo and forward Mario Balotelli - remains in place.
''We need to be focused on getting them disconnected,'' De la Torre said, adding that Italy might not know his players too well since few of them are based in Europe.
''If that can be a weapon for us then yes let's take advantage of it,'' De la Torre said.
Both sides will be motivated to play the first official match at the renovated Maracana.
''It's really emblematic to us all,'' De la Torre said. ''Wembley, Maracana - for anyone involved in football these are wonderful places. A dream is becoming a reality and now that it's remodeled even more so.''
Despite its lack of success in World Cup qualifying, Mexico still lies third in the CONCACAF standings, level with Costa Rica two points behind the United States. The top three finishers qualify directly for next year's tournament in Brazil, while the fourth-place finisher will face New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff.
''For qualifying we still have some time but we need to concentrate on this tournament right now,'' De la Torre said. ''We need to take things one step at a time. The key thing here is to get the group working together so we can approach the final qualifiers in the right frame of mind.''