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Tom Marshall: El Tri lands in Brazil with reason to be cautiously optimistic

Mexico completed its four-game friendly series over the weekend, and will head to Brazil with confidence that it can escape its group.

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Mexico’s World Cup squad arrived in Brazil on Saturday after four friendly games over the previous 11 days.

The bus taking El Tri to its base in Santos was greeted by over 2,000 people, according to the Mexican federation, with Mexico fans lining the temporary stands for Sunday’s light training session

On the way down, coach Miguel Herrera will have reflected on the past few weeks of training and friendly matches that were so key, especially in El Tri’s case. The manager had only taken over in October and had just six games before the four friendlies, and just one with a full squad.

A reading of the results will show two wins and two losses over the four games, with Mexico coming into the World Cup off the back of two 1-0 defeats — against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Chicago and then against Portugal on Friday night in Massachusetts.

Herrera was boisterous in his defense of his team after the final game, indicating that El Tri simply lacked the finishing touch against Portugal and that the “fifth game,” or quarterfinal, is the team’s minimum goal.

It was a match in which the performance, if not the result, certainly justified Herrera’s selection and the way the Bosnia gamble — starting at least four players that have little chance to make the team — was useful in helping him whittle down his 11 starters.

Against Portugal — missing Raul Meireles, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe — Mexico’s team functioned, dominated the second half, wielded the ball with composure and imposed itself on a team ranked number four in the world by FIFA.

The late Bruno Alves goal was a cruel blow to El Tri, but the game provided an honest assessment of where Mexico is ahead of Brazil 2014.

With more of a killer instinct from Mexico’s strikers in front of goal, El Tri could’ve won and sent a message around the world that this team is ready for the World Cup.

There is still reason to believe Mexico can do something and it will surely be an incident-filled journey, with a high probability Herrera will blow up about something. The team is sure to take the game to its opponent and attack in equal measure against Brazil as it would against Iran.

Herrera has already stated he’ll be naming his team on Thursday for Friday's Cameroon game, a policy unlikely to be copied by many other managers at Brazil 2014.

It is also worth remembering El Tri had more possession than Portugal in Friday’s match, and the European outfit isn’t exactly short of midfield ball-retaining quality.

For Mexico to succeed in Brazil, Oribe Peralta has to improve on his recent displays and shoulder the attacking responsibility. Above all, he needs goals like those that elevated him to legend status in the Olympic final in 2012 against Brazil.

The gold medal winner, who has just completed a big-money move to Club America, was sloppy on the ball in the warm-ups, snatched at half chances, and his only really exceptional moment came in setting up Luis Montes’ opener against Ecuador.

But El Cepillo’s work rate is undeniable and his ability to shield the ball with his back to goal means he will be Herrera’s first choice, even ahead of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.

The goalkeeper position remains something Herrera is still not certain about, leading to the slightly bizarre situation of Jesus Corona and Guillermo Ochoa playing one half each against Portugal.

You have to think that Corona — who played the first half — still has the job, meaning Ochoa is set for the bench once again.

At center back, Herrera has alternated between Diego Reyes and Francisco "Maza" Rodriguez on the right side of the back three in the friendly matches, and the latter’s fine performance last Friday likely earned him the spot.

The same goes for Andres Guardado, who went close to scoring on a couple of occasions playing in an attacking midfield role last Friday. He has probably edged past Carlos Pena and Isaac Brizuela in taking over from the injured Luis Montes in the starting team.

Overall, Mexico arrives in Brazil in decent shape and with confidence that it can at least get out of the group.  

Those dismal qualifiers against Honduras, the United States and Panama in 2013 are a distant memory in the shadow of soccer’s biggest event.

It should be a fun ride.

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