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Mexico seeking balance of belief without overconfidence against Korea

13:20 GMT+3 23/06/2018
Andres Guardado Mexico
El Tri is staying focused on its World Cup goals despite many jumping on the bandwagon after an opening-game defeat of Germany

Confidence against Germany was good. Confidence against South Korea is bad.

That’s the curious line Mexico is trying to walk ahead of its second World Cup group match. After an historic triumph over the reigning champions, it now must avoid a letdown Saturday to clinch a spot in the next round of the tournament and make sure that victory didn’t go in vain.

After the 1-0 win, Mexico players said that their belief that they could go toe-to-toe with Germany was key to springing the upset. Now El Tri enter the second game as the heavy favorites but are aware they can't get distracted.

There is a popular belief in Mexico that El Tri play up or down to their competition. Play one of the world's best sides, like Germany last week or Brazil in 2014, and Mexico can put in a strong showing and get a result. But against weaker CONCACAF teams, Mexico often struggles. Mexican fans may not fear this South Korea team, but they won't have peace of mind until Mexico's name is written in ink at the top of the group. 

To do that, Mexico needs a win in Rostov Arena. The team insists it is focused because that's what it came to the World Cup to do - to win every game. Midfielder Andres Guardado said there were no special motivational tactics needed during training this week and that the team won't need to have a different mentality Saturday because it's so focused on moving on in the tournament.

"Right now I can proudly tell you that with this group we don’t have to do anything. We’re all so aware of how we’ve been playing, we’re so aware of what we’ve come to do that the win over Germany has made us stronger. The mentally we’ve had coming here and what we’ve said almost every time we’ve been here is that we came to do something different," he said at a news conference Friday.

"Tomorrow, I’m confident that myself along with my teammates, we’re going to keep showing it like we showed it in the other game. We know that praise can be dangerous, that it can betray you, but we’ve come here after getting so much criticism that we didn’t believe it. We know soccer is like that, it’s like that in the whole world, but it all changes overnight. 

"Our goal wasn’t to come here and just beat Germany. It goes beyond that, and we’re going to keep working."

Guardado is part of a core of veterans who no doubt have been in the ear of El Tri's players who made standout World Cup debuts. It's the fourth World Cup for Guardado, the fifth for Rafa Marquez. Players like Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos have been to three. If there was any doubt in the minds of some of the younger players about how critical this moment is, it has been squashed by the veterans in the camp. They know you can't take these moments for granted. They've suffered painful defeats at the World Cup in the past and had to wait four years to get back to the grandest stage.

After a disappointing showing from South Korea in its first game, the idea El Tri could overlook this contest has become a popular talking point. Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio, though, says his team won't be caught sleeping. He wants confidence, credibility and respect to ensure Mexico has a chance to achieve its goals. But that respect that he has preached and the way he prepares for games against lesser opponents, like Curacao in the Gold Cup, should pay off with a team that can find the mix between the self-belief needed to play comfortably and also the cautiousness that any sign of cockiness can lead to defeat.

"I think that your question invites me to say we are our own enemies, however I don’t think so," Osorio said when asked who Mexico's biggest enemy was now that so many people have jumped aboard the bandwagon. "I think we have a very [united] group of professionals with Andres, our captain, to my right. This week, we made sure that we all understand the responsibility. The responsibility is to play up to the high expectations everybody has of Mexico now. I think that’s a great challenge for us, and we’re ready for it."

Mexico didn't come to the World Cup to win one game against Germany and lose the other two, and it didn't come to the World Cup to win the first two games and lose the next two, either. However, with the history of not making the quinto partido looming over this and every tournament, a win against South Korea would mean Osorio has taken Mexico at least as far as his predecessors. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though, looking at where this tournament would stand in Mexican soccer history were those results to happen. That can lead to unwanted surprises.