The Group A underdogs face each other in their first match, both aware that a victory in Arena das Dunas is a must to have a real chance of progressing in the tournamentBy Luis Herrera in Natal
Foes this Friday at Arena das Dunas, Mexico and Cameroon actually share a common path to Brazil 2014. Both seemed destined to watch the World Cup on television before their chances were revived thanks to circumstances outside their control.
With Brazil a clear favourite to win Group A and Croatia a strong candidate to take second spot in the group, El Tri and the Indomitable Lions know a victory in this first game is a must to have a real chance of going far in the tournament.
"I'm happy to be here, it's a dream come true, being in a World Cup," said coach Miguel Herrera.
"We are all very close, very united, thinking only of one thing: making history and advancing where other Mexican teams couldn't.
After a disastrous 2013 in which four different managers were in charge of the team, Mexico head to their opener with a starting 11 that includes only four players from the team that started one year ago in the Confederations Cup.
With just over half a year to prepare for Brazil, coach Herrera has installed a 5-3-2 system that has its main strength in its defence, where 35-year old veteran Rafael Marquez has came back to provide the the leadership the team lacked during its awful qualifying phase. In attack, Olympic gold medal heroes Oribe Peralta and Giovani Dos Santos are two terrific talents, while Manchester United’s Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez will wait for an opportunity to make his trademark impact coming from the bench.
"The competition is very close and the 11 that started against Portugal left me very confident in their attacking efforts; there is very good chemistry between Oribe and Gio, that’s why we chose to start with them," Herrera said at his pre-match press conference.
On the other hand, the losses of likely starters Juan Carlos Medina and Luis Montes to injuries in the weeks leading to this summer's tournament forced Herrera to scramble to find a new midfield; now formed by Bayer Leverkusen’s Andres Guardado, Porto’s Hector Herrera and the inexperienced Jose Juan Vazquez, a trio that actually worked quite well in their first game together last week against Portugal.
One player who is confirmed in the starting line-up is goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who has beaten off competition from Jesus Corona and Alfredo Tavalera to make the first XI.
"It was a very difficult decision, very tough to make, it was discussed with the rest of my staff, we analyzed the work of the three and opted for Ochoa," said Herrera. "We spoke with the three of them and what makes us proud is the support that Corona and Talavera gave Memo."
German coach Volker Finke has had a bit more time to work with Cameroon – he was appointed in May 2013 – opting for a very compact and organized 4-3-3 formation, yet lacking creativity in midfield at times. Like their rivals, Cameroon are likely to repeat the starting 11 of their last friendly, a 2-2 draw against Germany.
Veteran captain Samuel Eto’o is still the focal point of the attack, but is now playing as a true striker, and is not able to help as much in the creation of chances as in the past. That now is wingers Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Benjamin Moukandjo's jobs, who get constant help from their fullbacks.
Marseille’s Nicolas N’Koulou and Schalke’s Joel Matip are two very solid centre-backs, while Konyaspor’s keeper Charles Itandje has struggled to find consistency on club level, but in recent times has showed impressive form with his national team.
LIKELY STARTING XIs:
MEXICO: Ochoa; Aguilar, Rodriguez, Marquez, Moreno, Layun; Herrera, Vazquez, Guardado; Dos Santos, Peralta
CAMEROON: Itandje; Djeugoue, Matip, Nkoulou, Bedimo; Enoh, Song, M'bia; Moukandjo, Eto'o, Choupo-Moting