Mexico City, May 26 (DPA) Latin American hopefuls Mexico head to their fifth consecutive World Cup this June, and their second in the last three instalments under the stewardship of manager Javier El Vasco Aguirre.
The 2010 finals will be the 14th tournament overall for `El Tri, and the current side, brimming with veteran experience and promising youth, is eager to eclipse their best-ever finish of quarter-finalists, which they achieved as hosts in 1970 and 1986.
Although they have been drawn into a tricky Group A in South Africa — where they will face the hosts in a complicated opener as well as previous World Cup-winners France and Uruguay — most pundits pick the Mexicans to escape into the second round.
Ironically, the CONCACAF giants had a surprisingly difficult time even securing qualification for the event.
Under the helm of former playing legend Hugo Sanchez, the team began poorly, and replacement Sven-Goran Eriksson was himself shown the door after a dismal 13 months in charge. He was replaced by former Atletico Madrid boss Aguirre, who led Mexico to the 2002 World Cup finals in the Japan and South Korea.
After losing three of their first four matches in the final round of regional qualifying, the team righted the ship, eventually finishing second behind the USA, thanks in large part to their cauldron-like home stadium, the Estadio Azteca, where they have only ever lost one qualifier in their history.
Since Aguirre’s return, Mexico have looked a side very much on the up, one that stands on the cusp of generational change.
In captain Rafa Marquez, Barcelona’s evergreen defensive utility man, Mexico have a team leader and a globally recognised idol.
Aguirre also managed to coax aging legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco out of international retirement, and the 37-year-old playmaker had a crucial impact in the latter stages of the CONCACAF qualifying campaign.
Carlos Salcido and Ricardo Osorio, who both play in Germany’s top flight, bring European pedigree and ample experience.
The veterans are complemented by a brigade of youngsters who already have a taste of glory in a Mexico jersey. Gio dos Santos (21 on May 11) and Carlos Vela (21) were both members of the Mexico U-17 side that won the junior World Cup in Peru in 2005 and now there likely to stamp their authority on the side.
Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, who will be 22 and was recently snapped up by no less than Manchester United, looks likely to be handed a chance by Aguirre. Andres Guardado, the jet-heeled Deportivo la Coruna winger, also seems to be hitting his top form at present.
There are many new faces but there are also some experienced players with a lot of quality,’ says coach Aguirre. There is a real sense of togetherness and well be ready and united from the start.’
THE COACH – JAVIER AGUIRRE
A no-nonsense defender in his playing days, Aguirre lined up for Mexico at the 1986 World Cup on home soil. He began coaching in 1995 and brought a similarly uncompromising approach to the technical area that he had out on the pitch.
He led Mexico to the 2002 World Cup finals, where they famously lost to regional rivals the United States in the round of 16. He and the side got some measure of revenge at the 2009 Gold Cup, when they thrashed the US 5-0 in the final in New York City. Aguirre also has top-tier club coaching experience on his CV, having held the reins at Spanish clubs Atletico Madrid and Osasuna.
THE STAR – RAFA MARQUEZ
Mexico’s 31-year-old captain Rafa Marquez, who has captained the team at the last two World Cup finals, brings a necessary element of international pedigree from his seven years with Spanish giants Barcelona, while adding bite and grit in the centre of midfield.
Never one to shy out of a tackle or back down from an opponent, the players commitment occasionally gets the better of him when wearing the Mexico shirt as his red card against the US in qualifying attests but his positive qualities surely outweigh the negative.