Last updateFri, 20 Jun 2014 1pm

Mexico fired up for World Cup 2014

It may not be hugely popular in the United States or Canada, but the rest of the world will hunker down for the next four weeks as El Mundial (World Cup 2014) explodes in Brazil on June 12, promising an orgy of jingoistic passion centered around 22 players running hell for leather trying to kick a round ball into a net.

The most popular sport on earth is the most popular sport in Mexico by a country mile. A World Cup is perhaps the only time when the gaping social divides are put aside and the nation unites briefly for one aim – a victory for El Tri, as the national team are known.

Soccer (fútbol) in Mexico tends to reflect the nation’s psyche perfectly – blessed with talent but rarely able to take advantage of its potential.

Previous World Cups – 14 since 1930 – have flattered to deceive, with El Tri often able to negotiate the group stage successfully but falling in the early knockout rounds.

With players lacking the physical presence to match many European teams, Mexico has relied on technique and artistry to win games.   Coaches have usually prioritized attack but have come unstuck as a catalog of defensive and disciplinary errors have doomed the team to bitter defeats and heartbreaking tournament exits.

Frequently unable to rise to the level of soccer powerhouses such as Brazil, Spain, Germany, Italy and Argentina, Mexico’s consolation has been its traditional dominance on the field of play over its mighty northern neighbor, the United States. But even this supremacy has been eroded: recent games have favored the Stars and Stripes and, ironically, Mexico’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup only came about thanks to a freakish last-minute goal by the U.S. team in Panama.

This embarrassment is now long forgotten as Mexico moves into traditional pre-Mundial optimistic mode.   The corporate and media worlds love nothing more than a World Cup (its commercial value in Mexico is around one billion dollars, according to some estimates). Players’ faces are popping up on soda bottles, candy bars, packets of chips and the like, while broadcasters dedicate long hours to repetitive analysis before a ball has even been kicked.

How will El Tri fare?

After its disappointing qualifying campaign, few Mexicans were convinced that the World Cup would be anything other than an unmitigated failure. But victories in two of the three warm-up games in the past two weeks – against Israel and Ecuador – have reignited expectations. Under new coach Miguel “Piojo” Herrera, who took over the team in October, El Tri looks more balanced and, as always, poses a potent attacking threat thanks to proven stars who ply their trade in Europe, among them Giovani Dos Santos, Andrés Guardado, Héctor Moreno and Guadalajara’s very own pin-up Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez of England’s Manchester United.

Another Tapatio, veteran Rafael Marquez, 35, will captain the side. A strong defender who is unfortunately prone to rash disciplinary lapses, he will add experience to a young defense that looked very shaky in the qualifying tournament.

The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four, with the top two from each group passing to the round of 16.

Mexico finds itself in Group A with hosts Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon. While beating the hosts on Tuesday, June 17 in Fortaleza may be one step too far, the odds of victories against Croatia and Cameroon are good. The heat and humidity in Brazil will work in El Tri’s favor and the slower pace of the games will negate the pressing tactics of many of the teams.

Tough games await Mexico should they advance past the group phase. Their opponents in the next round are likely to be either Spain or the Netherlands, who faced each other in the 2010 final in South Africa (Spain were crowned champions). A match-up with rivals Team USA is unlikely as the draw determines they would first meet in the semi-finals.  

Given the task ahead, advancing to the round of 16 would be seen as a modest success for El Tri.

Team USA

Perennially an underdog, Team USA faces yet another tough group in a World Cup. Blocking their path are the ruthless Germans, top African nation Ghana and Portugal, whose roster includes the FIFA World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Not all has been sweetness and light for Team USA under (German) coach Jurgen Klinsmann. He dropped fan favorite Landon Donavon from the 23-player roster prior to the tournament and will come in for heavy criticism if goals are hard to come by.

A workmanlike squad, Team USA relies on teamwork rather than individual brilliance. With ten of the roster playing in Major League Soccer (MLS) rather than in competitive European leagues, lack of experience may turn out to be a major factor.

Players Klinsmann hopes will shine in Brazil include Clint Dempsey of the Seattle Sounders and DaMarcus Beasley of Mexican outfit Puebla. Goalkeeper Tim Howard of England’s Everton could be crucial and potentially one of the stars of the tournament.


England’s “Three Lions” have mostly underachieved since winning the World Cup on home soil (for the only time) in 1966. A fourth place in 1990 is hardly much to boast about for the nation credited with inventing the modern game of soccer.

Like Mexico, English hopes are always raised high before a tournament only to be dashed later. England face Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica in Group D – on paper not an impossible task for a team of millionaires led by Manchester United’s 29-year-old Wayne Rooney, who recently signed a contract worth 24.3 million dollars a year.

Despite his staggering earnings, Rooney’s form has been patchy and many fans are calling for him not be included in the starting 11 when the team lines up for their first game against Italy on June 14 in the humid Amazonian city of Manaus. Coach Roy Hodgson has added several young players to the roster and many fans, believing England has little chance of winning the tournament, would prefer to see youth given a chance.

The favorites

Cheered on by fanatical support, hosts Brazil – record five-time winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002) – are the clear favorites to win the World Cup on home soil. Their closest rivals, analysts predict, are Spain, Argentina and Germany.

Coach Luis Felipe Scolari led Brazil to the world title in 2002 in South Korea/Japan and was rehired in November 2012 to try and make up for a bitter defeat in the 1950 World Cup final in Rio de Janiero. Brazil reached the final in that tournament only to be denied the crown at the last hurdle by Uruguay in a game that has come to be known as the “Maracanazo,” (translated as “The Maracana Blow”). That historic game was held at Rio’s Maracana Stadium, which will host the 2014 final on Sunday, July 13.