Confident Mexico prepares to take its big shot at Brazil
JUN 16, 2014 10:50p ET
The images from Fortaleza on Sunday night reflected the bond shared between the Mexican national team and its supporters down in Brazil. Traveling fans piled onto the street in front of the Mexican hotel and chanted for their heroes to come to the balcony. Their willingness to oblige just two days before a match reflects the restored covenant between country and team and reinforces the importance of the work accomplished already.
Mexico enters its date with Brazil on Tuesday (3:00p.m. ET, Matchtrax, @FOXSoccerTrax) with its most fundamental task out of the way. The opening victory over Cameroon on Friday relieved any lingering tension in the camp and set up this match as a potential bonus on the way toward the round of 16. Miguel Herrera and his players will hope to snatch a result of some sort to sustain their positive work in the opener, but there is no urgent need to do so after dispatching the Cameroonians on Friday.
All of the pressure will fall on Brazil to improve upon a rather lackluster 3-1 triumph against Croatia in the opening match. This game serves as a chance for Mexico to measure its progress against one of the tournament favorites. And it is an opportunity this confident group can embrace knowing that defeat will not cripple the chances of advancing out of Group A.
“Tomorrow will be a great setting for all of us,” Mexico wingback Miguel Layún told reporters on Monday. “We are playing against the host. We all know Brazil is a candidate to win the World Cup. We want to show that we aspire to great things with a victory on Tuesday.”
It is not entirely out of the question, but Brazil remains a committed and formidable opponent without a competitive defeat on home soil for 40 years or so. Luiz Felipe Scolari organized the tournament favorites in a resolute 4-2-3-1 setup and trusted his seasoned warriors from the Confederations Cup to lead the quest for a sixth title. Neymar provides the extra bit of inspiration and the required touch of class, but this team grinds out victories more often than expected from a stereotypical Brazil side.
The scenario plays right into the hands of an assured Mexico group set to remain unchanged from the victory against Cameroon. Herrera checked on the fitness of his players and opted to retain the same XI after the fine results produced at the outset. He possessed the latitude to tinker if he wanted – Diego Reyes could have replaced Maza Rodriguez on the right side of the back three to cope with Neymar’s runs on the left, for example – and stuck by the players who delivered for him on Saturday.
“The team is well,” Herrera said during his press conference. “All of the guys who took some knocks have recovered quite well. It was no more than momentary pain. The team is mentally and physically strong. We want to repeat our performance.”
Herrera and his players will need to maintain the same sort of sharpness and receive a touch more help from the assistant referee to fulfill that brief. Much of the important work will come in the wide areas. Expect Layún and Paul Aguilar to venture forward at points to deliver more service toward Oribe Peralta, stretch the shape and test Dani Alves and Marcelo one-versus-one on the flanks. They must take special care with those forays to ensure Brazil does not play quickly into the space behind them and threaten a back three vulnerable when teams transition quickly with some speed.
The key battles in this battle – three versus three in midfield, Brazil fullbacks versus Mexico wingbacks – provide El Tri with a chance to make a mark. This isn’t the sort of game where Herrera will expect his players to sit back and soak up pressure. There is a certain level of endeavor required to chase the result against Brazil. If Aguilar and Layún can gain the upper hand out wide and the rest of the side can break quickly and effectively when presented with the right opportunities, then Mexico could find itself on firm enough footing to snatch a point or three by full time.
“We will try to attack them,” Herrera said. “We are not coming here just to defend. We must make the opposition defend. If we attack Brazil, then I think we can take advantage of them. If we just defend them, then they are quality players.”
Herrera’s words highlight the increased belief and conviction in the Mexico camp and underscore the reaction to his players on Sunday night. This is a confident team willing to dream big and strive to fulfill those objectives. It may or may not happen against Brazil, but that mindset – and the strength it reflects – bodes well for El Tri’s chances as this journey continues.