It doesn’t get bigger than playing in the World Cup. A competition where high stakes prevent many teams from displaying their best football. But that doesn’t bother Mexico at all.
El Tri has a curious tradition. Their road to the World Cup is usually filled with obstacles, poor play, shaky results in the Concacaf qualifying phase and coaching changes. The critics in the local press are devastating, the fans lose faith and everyone waits for disaster.
And then the tournament starts, Mexico play at a much higher level and end up winning their first match on route to a place in the round of 16. They defeated South Korea in 1998, Croatia in 2002, Iran in 2006 and now have overcame Cameroon in 2014.
With this victory, the Latin American side edges closer to progressing past the group phase for the sixth time in a row. From 1994 to 2010, the only other teams that managed that feat were Brazil and Germany.
It’s a remarkable sign of consistency from Mexico, a team that needed to be rescued twice by coach Javier Aguirre – in 2001 and 2009 – had four different managers in 2013 and has to thank bitter rival United States for a last minute goal against Panama in which was a meaningless game for them, a goal that saved Mexico from finishing fifth of six teams in the final qualifying phase of Concacaf, allegedly one of the weakest confederations in world football.
How to explain such contrast between what happens before and during the World Cup so many times?
“It’s true we have done things wrong and that’s why it has been so hard, but once the team leaves behind all the pressure of qualifying we prove in the World Cup that Mexico can play against anybody.”
Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez shares Moreno’s opinion.
“We entered this game with no pressure, no matter what other people could think or say; we came with the motivation of a World Cup, you have to see coming here as a showcase, as an incredible opportunity to do what you love more, that is playing football in the best competition."
Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa adds: “Before the start of the World Cup it’s tough, there is anxiety, you want the game to start, you want the moment to come, the wait is awful, but once you are in the field you focus and enjoy what you do, what you have done since youwere a kid.”
But even if this is a familiar situation for El Tri, veteran captain Rafael Márquez admits what happened in 2013 was worse than previous scares.“I think we hit rock bottom [last year], but then there were good decisions made”, says the former Barcelona star.
“We have a good staff, good players, good management [in the Mexican Federation] and that helps us to have this kind of performances.”