Should Mexico Fans Worry About WC Berth?

The state of Mexico’s qualification 1 year out from World Cup 2014 in Brazil
by Brendan Doherty   |   Friday, June 14, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

There is now less than 1 year before the first kickoff of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Should fans of El Tri be worried about their chances to qualify and how did Mexico find itself in this jam?

At this point last year

In June 2012, Mexico was facing a relatively easy 4-team group with Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guyana. El Tri went on to sweep Group B in the Third Round of CONCACAF qualification 6-0-0 by scoring 15 goals and only conceding 2. That round ended October 16, 2012, with a 2-0 win over Guatemala in Torreón, Mexico.

Aside from qualification, Mexico went 4-2-0 in friendly matches in 2012. This record includes wins against Venezuela, Wales, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a 2-0 victory over the mighty Brazil. During the successes of 2012, manager José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre regularly lined up his team in a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 with 2 deep central midfielders and an attacking midfielder/forward playing in the hole.

Towards the end of 2012 calendar year, Chepo de la Torre decided his team would need a back-up plan ready if they were to go toe-to-toe with stronger teams during the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup. That back-up plan was a flat 4-4-2, a tactical formation that does not suit the quick, creative, counter-attacking style of most of the Mexican players.

Counterattacking and bunkered defenses

Even during their impressive Third Round play, Mexico only scored 3 first-half goals. Of the 15 total goals scored by Mexico, 7 were scored in the last 15 minutes of play.

To me, this shows that Mexico excels when the game spreads out during the second half. Teams facing Mexico will play much of the first half defensively compact, but when the opposition players tire after the hour mark, Mexico’s attacking players have the ability to capitalize on gaps and finish with lethal intent.

The main difference between 2013 and 2012 for Mexico, besides an early insistence on a flat 4-4-2, has been that opposition teams have been considerably more disciplined. Much of that is to be expected as the competition level is much tighter in the Hexagonal (Fourth Round) than the group stages (Third Round).

Interestingly, Mexico has played Costa Rica in both rounds. Against Costa Rica at home in the Third Round last year, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández scored the only goal of the game around the hour mark. Costa Rica had to go for a win in that match because it was sitting in third place of the group beneath El Salvador and had just lost to Mexico at home 4 days prior. Los Ticos could not afford to play defensively for 90 minutes hoping for a 0-0 draw.

Switching gears to the Hexagonal; going into the most recent match against Mexico, the Costa Ricans had tied in Panama, lost in the U.S., but beaten both Jamaica and Honduras in San José. This put Costa Rica on 7 points from 4 games and sitting pretty in one of the 3 automatic qualification positions. Costa Rica did not need to win in the Azteca, and as such it planned to play a very defensive game, hoping to leave Mexico with a 0-0 draw.

The format of the Hexagonal round of World Cup Qualification means that teams can afford to play for 0-0 draws on the road if they get results at home. This is what every country has done so for in Mexico.

The United States, rightly applauded for sitting atop the Hexagonal table, only managed 1 shot (off target) all game in the Azteca, compared to Mexico’s 17. The USA, which is at the head of the Hexagonal now, never seemed interested in scoring while holding onto the 0-0 scoreline in front of 85,000 passionate Mexico fans.

Still no excuse for Mexico’s profligacy

While the Hexagonal encourages all teams who play against Mexico to keep as many as 8 field players behind the ball, I’m not trying to say that Mexico deserves to have had different results; the team is to blame for its own failures.

The players have needed to play smarter and more focused in the final third. But when motivation and mental sharpness become negative pandemic trends, de la Torre should take some responsibility.

Right now Mexico is just days away from starting their Confederations Cup campaign in Brazil. After group stage games against Italy, Brazil and Japan, if Mexico has not unleashed their offensive potential the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) could be looking for de la Torre’s replacement.

Luckily for Chepo, with eyes turned to Brazil a year before the World Cup, he has a chance to prove his doubters wrong by showcasing a new-found defensive solidity that has been missing from Mexican teams in the past.

With the competition during the Confederations Cup similar to what Mexico might face during the World Cup next year (assuming El Tri qualifies), Chepo has the opportunity to save his job by turning out strong performances on the world stage.

If FMF does relieve Chepo of his duties after the Confederations Cup, there are a number of replacement candidates capable of motivating this Mexico squad.

Despite sitting in third place – 2 points behind Panama, which has a game in hand – fans of El Tri should not worry too much. The talent is there for Mexico and either Chepo rights the ship or his replacement rejuvenates the players.

While it may be frustrating that Mexico is not soaring above the rest of the region, the team still has about a 50% chance of finishing in one of the 3 automatic qualification berths.

NEXT UP: June 16 – FIFA Confederations Cup: Mexico vs. Italy, Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 2:30 p.m. EST, ESPN, Univision.


Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.