Population: 106,200,000
Area: 1,972,550 km²
Capital: Mexico City
Language: Spanish

Mexico progressed comfortably from the CONCACAF hexagonal final round as runners-up to USA on identical points.
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Jan 25 Mexico v Norway 2-1
Feb 15 Mexico v South Korea 0-1
Mar 01 Mexico v Ghana 1-0
Mar 30 Mexico v Paraguay 2-1
May 06 Venezuela v Mexico 0-1
May 13 Mexico v DR Congo 2-1
May 27 France v Mexico 1-0
Jun 01 Netherlands v Mexico 2-1

Participations: (12) 1930, 1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1978, 1986, 1994, 1998 and 2002
Best placing: Quarterfinal 1970 and 1986
Topscorer: Luis Hernandez, 4 goals
More detailed history information

Jun 11 - MEX v IRN  in Nuremberg
Jun 16 - MEX v ANG  in Hannover
Jun 21 - MEX v POR  in Gelsenkirchen

- Mexico in Group D -
Jan Alsos: 1st place
Pierre Boisrond: 2nd place
Ruud Doevendans: 1st place
Mike Gibbons: 2nd place
Peter Goldstein: 1st place
Paul Marcuccitti: 1st place
Felipe Santos: 2nd place


by Peter Goldstein

    The pressure’s really on Mexico this time. Actually, the pressure’s always on Mexico, where the fans think you should win the World Cup every year, even in years it’s not held. But now the world is watching. After three solid tournaments in a row, not to mention a great performance at last year’s Confederations Cup, the Tri (short for Tricolor) have finally been granted a top seed. And they got the maximum benefit, with one of the easiest groups in the competition. But with the Group of Death beckoning in the second round, they’ll have to prove themselves against very tough opposition to grab that long-desired quarterfinal berth.

    The man in charge is Ricardo LaVolpe, who knows all about pressure. That’s because he’s probably the most hated and abused coach at the tournament (and that’s saying something). At first glance it’s hard to see why: he gets results, and his teams play the possession-oriented attacking football so dear to Latin American fans. But he has one great fault: he’s not Mexican. He’s a native Argentine, and more than 20 years playing and coaching in Mexico have failed to clear him of the stain. It didn’t help that he beat out favorite son Hugo Sánchez for the job, or that he’s called in naturalized players (a very controversial matter in Mexico), or that he has absolutely no public relations skills whatsoever.

    Or that he’s left Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the most creative and most celebrated Mexican player of his generation, off the squad. Blanco is 33, but can still make and take goals in a manner no one on the side can match. He and LaVolpe have been publicly feuding for some time, so it was no surprise that Blanco got the axe. But it’s not going to win LaVolpe any popularity contests--especially since he managed to include his own son-in-law, the modestly talented Rafael García, on the 26-man provisional squad.

    But what counts are W’s, and LaVolpe’s squad is likely to get a few. Start at keeper, where the number one is Oswaldo Sánchez (Guadalajara). He’s a brilliant shot-stopper, one of the best you’ll see. In the past he’s been good coming off his line as well; recently, though, he’s been subject to odd errors of judgment. If he recovers top form, he’ll make his mark at the tournament.

    LaVolpe usually goes with a 3-man back line, and, if healthy, it’ll be one of the strongest at the tournament. The main man is Rafael Márquez of Barcelona, tough, mobile, technical, good in the air--you can’t ask for more. He usually starts on the right side of defense, although at times he plays in midfield, where he’s skilled enough to add to the attack. He’s coming back from a torn thigh muscle, but looks ready to go; if for some reason he can’t get match fit, the most likely replacement is Francisco “Maza” Rodríguez (Guadalajara), a big man, powerful, good in the air, but a bit short on technique and positioning. The man in the middle is Ricardo Osorio (Cruz Azul), very quick, a superb reader and tackler, a natural sweeper. On the left is Carlos Salcido (Guadalajara), strong and supple, an excellent man-marker and useful long-ball distributor.

    The likely midfield anchor in the 3-5-2 is Pavel Pardo (America), a veteran linkman, slow, but excellent at rotating the ball to the wings. He’s backed up by Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul), whose stock has dropped a bit since his fine performance in 2002, but is still a natural destroyer with the skill and shot to make an impact moving up. And, as noted, Márquez might see time here as well.

    For Mexico the playmaker spot is crucial; they sometimes hold the ball and get too passive, and need someone to push the attack. Unfortunately, Antonio Naelson (Toluca), the naturalized Brazilian, known as “Sinha,” is coming off a severe knee injury, and although he’s back in training, may not be 100% by June. Although he disappears at times, he’s smooth and creative, and can score as well. There’s no real replacement, and without Blanco on the pitch the midfield may struggle to create chances. Luis Pérez (Monterrey) is another regular, a hard-driving box-to-box midfielder, but his technique and vision are short of playmaker quality.

    The left side of midfield is strong and deep. The likely starter at left wingback is Gonzalo Pineda (Guadalajara), a steady, technical all-rounder. If you need to attack, veteran Ramón Morales (Guadalajara) is your man, or maybe even 19-year-old Andrés Guardado (Atlas), whose pace and skill have made him the sensation of the domestic league. Jaime Lozano (Tigres), a natural scorer who was the revelation of the qualifiers, has been off form due to injury, and his spot on the squad isn’t guaranteed yet.

    On the right the situation is less encouraging. When Salvador Carmona was suspended for doping violations, the team lost their clear number one, and no one has stepped up. Right now the inside track belongs to José Antonio “Gringo” Castro (America). He’s fast and lively, although he has yet to show a cutting edge. The conservative choice would be Mario Méndez (Monterrey), who filled in for Carmona at the Confederations Cup. He doesn’t make many mistakes, but he’s not likely to do anything remarkable either. Hopefully we’ll see some of Jesús Arellano (Monterrey), another famous veteran who’s feuded with LaVolpe. He can still dance and dart on occasion, and could play either right wing or on the right of midfield.

    The striker spot is a bit controversial. No problem with the man in the middle: it’s Jared Borgetti, all-time leading scorer for the team. In his prime, he was a classic number 9: elegant, superb in the air, deadly with both feet. He’s now 32, and hasn’t played much since his ill-advised signing with Bolton. But he’s always been a big-game performer, and you can expect his last hurrah to be a loud one.

    But who’s his partner? Through the qualifiers it was Francisco “Kikín” Fonseca (Cruz Azul), a fan favorite, a take-no-prisoners predator with a streak of creativity. But although he’s played several positions at club level, he’s best at centerforward, and when he pairs with Borgetti he loses some of his effectiveness. The more natural partner is Guillermo Franco (Villareal), a naturalized Argentine who got his citizenship while Mexico was qualifying. To some he’s a hero, to others a cynical opportunist, particularly since his move to Spain. He’s remarkably creative, with outstanding technique, and excellent in the air. Most importantly, he can play support striker to either Borgetti or Fonseca. He’s been mostly on the bench at Villareal, but if he’s at all close to full fitness, expect him to start the tournament.

(Oh, a tip when watching Mexico: don’t blink during set pieces. On the one hand, the team is notoriously vulnerable in dead-ball situations; on the other, they have several outstanding free kick men, led by Márquez, Lozano, Morales, and Pardo.)

    As we say, the pressure’s on this time, and the league and FA have responded. The domestic clubs released their players at the beginning of April, so with the exception of Borgetti, Franco, and Márquez, the team will have been together for two months before the opener. Still, although Group D should pose no problems, the second-round matchup will be difficult. A possession/finesse team, the Tri tend to struggle against physical counterattacking sides. Oddly enough, the team they may most want to avoid is Serbia & Montenegro. But they don’t have to fear anyone. If the midfield can create the chances, Mexico can make the quarterfinals and beyond. Just don’t expect LaVolpe to get the credit.




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