Mexico are currently on a remarkable run of one defeat in 23 matches since coming a cropper in El Salvador during a bleak phase of World Cup qualification.
That was manager Javier Aguirre’s first game in charge after the sacking of Sven Goran Eriksson and followed defeats to USA and Honduras which left Mexico in danger of elimination.
The transformation Aguirre then masterminded sees him spoken of with due reverence by players like Barcelona defender and Mexico captain Rafael Márquez; the manager is clearly recognised as the driving force behind the team.
Aguirre convinced 37-year-old Cuauhtémoc Blanco out of international retirement, and used him as the leader of a mostly youthful team, which includes Arsenal’s Carlos Vela and Manchester United-bound Javier Hernández. For their last victory, a 1-0 win over Chile, the starting 11 minus Blanco had the sprightly average age of 25 years old.
However, despite having a unified team, the respect of his players, and the variety in his squad to alter tactics as games progress, Aguirre has a problem: Mexico don’t travel that well.
Just once during the final qualification round did they win away from home, 3-0 in Costa Rica. They lost to Honduras, El Salvador, and USA, and only managed a draw in Trinidad and Tobago.
Indeed the majority of their 24 games under Aguirre have been played around the central American region. It encompasses a successful Gold Cup tournament and a smattering of friendlies against the likes of Iceland, New Zealand, and North Korea, all staged in southern USA and Mexico.
Mexico’s match against England at Wembley on May 24th will be a good indication of how well they cope away from their own continent.
A partisan home crowd with deafening vuvuzelas will be uninhibited in supporting South Africa during the first game of the tournament, and if such an atmosphere affects the young players, as it did during qualification, a shock loss could be on the cards.
It would be difficult for Mexico to overcome such a result, with tough matches against France and Uruguay to follow, and elimination before the World Cup last 16 stage for the first time since 1990 would be likely.
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