MexicoIllustrated By Alison Cowles
MEXICO IS, WITHOUT A DOUBT, the most successful team in CONCACAF and the biggest rival of the United States. El Tri lead the all-time series with the Americans 33-16-12, including a 4-2 thrashing at the 2011 Gold Cup final, and boast a 131-to-69 goal advantage. Mexico is also posting better results on the youth level, winning two recent Under-17 World Cups and taking home the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. They are, simply put, a squad in the ascendancy and the favorite to win the final round of qualification after dominating the semifinals with six wins, zero losses, and an impressive +13 goal differential.
Part of the advantage is Azteca Stadium, the 100,000-person Mexico City fortress in which Mexico plays its home games. The venue is one of the most intimidating in international football because of the rabid fans, the altitude, and, let's face it, the pollution. But has Azteca lost a little luster? The United States scored first during a 2009 qualification match, defeated Mexico 1-0 in August 2012, and now believes it can prevail on Mexico's turf. El Tri should easily qualify for the World Cup, but the talented young team wants to win the Hexagonal. To do so, they may need to beat their biggest rivals in Mexico City and find a way to prevail in the Estados Unidos as well. CONCACAF's balance of power remains very much up in the air.
The CoachJOSE MANUEL DE LA TORRE took over the top spot in late 2010, replacing interim manager Efraín Flores. The former attacking midfielder, "Chepo" to his friends and enemies, appeared in 28 matches for the national team between 1987 and 1992 and spent the majority of his 15-year playing career in Mexico after coming up through the Chivas youth system. He retired from playing in 1999, taking over as manager of his boyhood club in 2005. He led Chivas to a championship in 2006, and jumped to Toluca in 2008 where he won two more Liga MX championships. De La Torre won his Mexico debut 2-0 over Bosnia and Herzegovina in February 2011, then led El Tri to the 2011 Gold Cup. His guidance has Mexico playing extremely well. El Chepo never made the World Cup as a player; he looks almost certain to represent his country as a coach.
The TacticsMEXICO IS TRADITIONALLY an attack-oriented team, but the injection of new blood from recent generations has transformed El Tri’s tactics from a rather one-dimensional-if-skill-oriented short passing game to a high-flying, fast-paced approach bolstered by a dizzying array of offensive options and world class athleticism. Nevertheless, Coach Jose Manuel de la Torre, considered among Mexico’s old guard, insists on deploying dual holding midfielders, slowing the attack down more than many El Tri backers might like. There’s sometimes something to the criticism. Despite impressive results under the manager, the team can sometimes look pressed for ideas with creative forces like Marco Fabian or Gio Dos Santos pushed out wide, without a central playmaker immediately behind the two-man front line. Against the U.S., Mexico has tasted much more success than failure over the years, especially in Mexico, where a friendly loss last August was the only defeat El Tri has suffered at home against its northern neighbors. In World Cup qualifying, the U.S. has but one point to show for all its visits to El Azteca–that en route to the 1998 World Cup in France.
The HistoryFOR A COUNTRY with such a rich soccer tradition, Mexico has never experienced great success on the world's biggest stage. El Tri reached the quarterfinal in 1970 and 1986, but even those quality results were disappointing considering the Mexicans were the tournament hosts. Mexico missed Italy 1990 due to a two-year FIFA ban stemming from the use of over-age players in a youth tournament, but the team rebounded well. They have qualified for the last five World Cups, reaching the Round of 16–and only the Round of 16–in each one. The players, and the country, are desperate to advance further in Brazil.
World Cup Results1990: Round of 16
1994: Round of 16
1998: Round of 16
2002: Round of 16
2006: Round of 16
2010: Round of 16