World Cup Qualifying Preview: Mexico-Costa Rica

Mexico will try and pick up the pieces to their Hexagonal campaign in a welcomed venue as Costa Rica visit Estadio Azteca.'s Luis Bueno breaks down the critical encounter.
Who: Mexico vs. Costa Rica
What: World Cup 2010 qualifying, CONCACAF final round
When: 7 p.m. ET, Saturday, March 28, 2009
Where: Estadio Azteca; Mexico City
TV: Telemundo

Saying it's do or die for Mexico in Saturday's match against Costa Rica may be stretching the truth - but not by much. Mexico would have plenty of life left even if the unthinkable happened. However, if Mexico do not get a victory, they may be put on life support.

Mexico face a difficult encounter on Saturday as Costa Rica visit Estadio Azteca. Costa Rica are the only team ever to beat Mexico in a World Cup qualifier at Estadio Azteca. The so-called Aztecazo happened eight years ago and only Pavel Pardo and Oswaldo Sanchez remain from the Mexican squad who fell that day, but Costa Rica will surely use the result as motivation.

Pressure-Packed Environment

Mexico players will likely need to relax somewhat and release some pent-up frustration somewhat privately before the game. Otherwise, more Nery Castillo press conferences might ensue. Castillo unloaded on the Mexican media on Wednesday, chastising reporters for not supporting the national team, and even challenged one writer to a fight. It's understandable to have issues with the immense pressure Mexican players are facing; to see it play it out in this way may hammer home reveal that Mexican players are not dealing well in managing expectations.

If Mexico are feeling the heat several days before the game against Costa Rica, they will likely only feel it intensify on Saturday. Tickets have already sold out, a full two days before the game. With well over 100,000 fans likely in attendance, Mexico will hope the fans add to the smog and altitude to form an environment that will swallow up los Ticos before they get an opportunity to settle down.

Missing Mexicans

In what is quickly becoming a recurring theme, Mexico will be missing several players. Rafael Marquez, Carlos Vela and Carlos Salcido -- all likely starters -- will not be available due to suspension. Vela was not available against the United States, and neither were Gerardo Torrado or Fernando Arce, but the latter duo will be available against Costa Rica. Also, Giovani Dos Santos, who started the U.S. match, has been ruled out of the game but may be available for Wednesday's game in Honduras. With such roster instability, Sven-Goran Eriksson must turn to yet another starting lineup to do the task. Saturday's choices at central defense seem thin - Aaron Galindo struggled against the United States; Jonny Magallon only recently recovered from injury and hasn't played for El Tri since October; Leobardo Lopez is relatively inexperienced at this level. Replacing Vela will likely be an easier task. Omar Bravo seems a sure-fire starter, and Matias Vuoso's brace against Bolivia surely counted for something.

2001 All Over Again?

Mexican players may complain about the Mexican media's discussion of the Aztecazo but there are several eerie similarities between now and then. In 2001, Mexico opened the Hexagonal with a 2-0 loss to the United States in Columbus, Ohio. Also, after Mexico played Costa Rica, El Tri followed it up with a game at Honduras. Mexico too entered the game in bad shape eight years ago, although then El Tri had previously suffered through an embarrassing Confederations Cup performance. Much like they do now for Eriksson, Mexico players were steadfast in their support for then-manager Enrique Meza. However, Mexico are adamant that the Aztecazo will not happen again, and Azteca will likely not featue many if any empty seats, unlike in '01 when fans displayed their displeasure with El Tri by staying away from the match in droves

Projected lineups

Mexico: Oswaldo Sanchez; Ricardo Osorio, Jonny Magallon, Aaron Galindo, Oscar Rojas; Fernando Arce, Pavel Pardo, Leandro Augusto, Andres Guardado; Matias Vuoso, Omar Bravo.

Costa Rica: Ricardo Gonzalez; Freddy Fernandez, Michael Umana, Junior Diaz, Roy Myrie; Celso Borges, Armando Alonso, Carlos Hernandez, Alvaro Saborio; Andy Furtado, Bryan Ruiz. Prediction

The Aztecazo will stay in the past; Mexico 2, Costa Rica 0.

Luis Bueno is the Mexico page editor for