After being eliminated in the round of 16 at the previous five tournaments, Mexico is again settings its sights on an elusive World Cup quarterfinal berth.
The Mexican soccer federation’s director of national teams, Hector Gonzalez Iñarritu, announced El Tri's goals for 2014 and went to the same place many have before him.
The national team will once again be aiming to reach that “fifth game”, the quarterfinals, having gone out at the round of 16 stage in the previous five World Cups.
“We are convinced that this team can reach the quarterfinals in Brazil 2014 as a minimum,” said Gonzalez Iñarritu in a FMF news conference Thursday in Mexico City. “We want to make history.”
Gonzalez Iñarritu admitted 2013 was a poor year for the national team, which qualified for the World Cup by the skin of its teeth, but missed out on the other stated objectives of reaching the final of the Confederations Cup and winning the Gold Cup.
Mexico is in Group A for the summer event along with Brazil, Cameroon and Croatia and will be based in Santos, around 45 minutes from Sao Paulo. The team will fly from Santos to each of its games in the northeast of the country and each flight will be more than two hours.
Ahead of the main event, Mexico is set to play six games, Gonzalez Iñarritu announced. El Tri will start Jan. 29 with a friendly in San Antonio against Korea Republic and will face Nigeria in Atlanta on March 5, on an authorized FIFA date with the Europe-based contingent available.
From there, Mexico will play a farewell game on May 28 in the Estadio Azteca against European opposition, followed by a game in the United States on May 31 against Ecuador and two more matches north of the border on June 3 and June 6 before flying to Brazil a day later.
“Playing against Nigeria gives us a parameter for its similarities with Cameroon, and Ecuador will be useful to face a South American rival,” Mexico manager Miguel Herrera in the same press conference. “We are also looking at Bosnia, Belgium, Switzerland and Portugal as candidates for (the other) games.”
But despite the limited amount of time he has had to shape the national team, having only taken over officially in December, Herrera seems extremely confident, saying Gonzalez Iñarritu’s aim of the quarterfinal was not enough.
“The fifth game, to start, seems very little, we’re going to reach the final,” Herrera said. “It’s hard, we haven’t achieved it in five World Cups, but we’re to going to get as far as possible.”
On paper, even the quarterfinal seems complicated for the simple reason that Mexico is likely to play the Netherlands or Spain in the Round of 16.
With regards to call ups, Herrera has stressed over and over that he will prioritize players who are getting regular minutes over those sitting on benches in Europe and again made the same point.
The former America coach also talked about Carlos Vela’s situation, saying he won’t be trying to convince the player to suit up for El Tri.
“It’s not about convincing him, it’s about talking to him,” Herrera said. “We have to make the group the priority.”
The manager added that not calling up Giovani dos Santos in the form he is in would be “silly.”
The overriding sentiment from the presentation was that Mexico is thinking big going into 2014, trying to keep out the demons that haunted the national team in 2013.