Mexico’s Herrera rescues national team in style

FORTALEZA, Brazil (AP) Miguel Herrera likes to say he needs a clear plan.

And the stocky Mexico coach on Tuesday made sure his players were following the script. As his team held World Cup favorites Brazil 0-0, he paced up and down beyond the coach’s box, shouting and gesturing to his men and ignoring polite calls from a match official to step back a little.

It’s those kinds of animated displays that have made him so popular back home in his short span in charge of the team. And after his tactics helped neutralize the tournament host and favorite, Herrera’s popularity is only likely to soar even higher.

The 46-year-old veteran of Mexican club coaching had given his team a clear roadmap for how to fence in Neymar and Brazil: Deny them space, field an unchanged defensive lineup, bring on strikers at the end, and counterattack across the width of the pitch.

”When we strayed from the plan, Brazil created chances. When we didn’t, Brazil couldn’t shine,” Herrera said.

”The team is doing a wonderful job but the boys deserve all the credit,” he said. ”Brazil is the favorite to win so of course we are happy … I think Mexico has grown.”

They have.

When Herrera took over as interim manager last November, Mexico was in danger of missing its sixth consecutive World Cup and he was the third man at the helm in the span of a month.

Under his leadhership, Mexico dispatched playoff rival New Zealand 9-3 on aggregate to earn the team a spot at the World Cup and himself a permanent job as coach.

In Brazil, he walked out his hotel to greet jubilant fans, having erased the nation’s bad mood after the Mexicans beat Cameroon 1-0 in the opener.

”I don’t think the coach and the team should be secluded. We should be with the people who support us,” he said.

Mexico fans traveled in droves to Fortaleza, often making more noise at the game than the Brazilians despite being outnumbered more than five-to-one. Midway through the second half they were breaking out into song, chanting ”Ai, Ai, Ai, Ai,” from the national favorite ”Celito Lindo.”

Herrera is now tasked with trying to break a streak of five straight World Cup runs that have all ended at the round of 16.

Herrera earned has a reputation for ignoring any clamoring that goes on around him and has dismissed calls to start Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez – a kind of stubbornness that he hopes rubs off on his national team players.

An improvement in the team’s mentality, he said, would go a long way to take Mexico back to greatness.

”If we concentrate on our game and what we have to do with the ball – that is what’s important,” he said. ”We have to stop believing we are the best in the region, because that almost cost us qualification. We need to adopt a mentality that is positive – a winning mentaility.”

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