If everything goes according to plan, Mexico should be standing on the Rose Bowl field in Pasadena, Calif. on Saturday, June 25, awaiting the kickoff to clash again against its archrival, the United States, in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
But as good and as talented as the Mexicans are, they know there can be many pitfalls along the path to glory. They only have to look back to 2005, when they were eliminated in the Gold Cup quarterfinals by guest team Colombia.
You assume they have learned an important lesson: Underachieving and failure are not an option.
"More than ever, we have a responsibility to make it to the final," team captain and central defender Rafa Márquez said.
Two years ago the Mexicans scored a stunning 5-0 triumph over their archrivals in the cup final at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The electrifying win broke an 11-game winless (0-9-2) streak on U.S. soil dating back to a 2-1 Mexico victory in San Diego on March 13, 1999.
Márquez said that breaking the long winless streak was important to the team's psyche, even if it was accomplished against the Americans' B team.
"It helps a lot," Márquez said. "Obviously, it boosts your confidence. We know that if we play our game, if we do the things right on the field, we can have a good win like we did the last time around in the final in the Gold Cup."
Márquez said the Mexicans had difficulties adapting to the Americans' style.
"It's the way the U.S. has played," he said. "They were always waiting for the counterattack. That type of game didn't suit us better. They always hurt us on that approach of the game. A lot of the time on set pieces, we know physically they're bigger."
Assuming both sides reach the final, El Tri should not be overconfident from that 2009 result because the U.S. has brought its A team to the competition this time as there is another prize at stake for the winner – a chance to play at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup final.
Still, the Mexicans face a number of challenges
Their domestic and internationally-based players are coming off of long seasons and have to be a bit tired and weary. It will be coach José Manuel de la Torre's charge to invigorate the side to play well for six games over a 21-day period so he could move players in and out of the lineup to avoid burnout.
De la Torre also faces a unique situation of having a number of key players from Europe who did not start or even dress for long periods of time.
Players such as Pablo Barrera, who did not play a lot with West Ham United, which was relegated to English's second division, might be in shape. But there are questions if he is match fit.
There is a difference between being fit and match fit at a high level, which is a combination of physical and mental awareness that can only come from games.
There has been talk about a generational gap between a number of players between the veterans (30 and over) and the younger crowd (in their early 20s). De la Torre has to make sure tensions never bubble through to the surface, especially when the team is under fire.
Sometimes just playing for your team, your country and your shirt will bury such problems. But sometimes emotions do take over.
Regardless, de la Torre arguably has the best side in the competitions as he will mesh domestic-based players from Mexico's Primera Division with its foreign legion.
Looking at the lineup de la Torre deployed in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Ecuador in Seattle, the starting 11 should include several Primera players. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa (America), defenders José Torres Nilo (Tigres de la UANL) and Ricardo Osorio (Monterrey), midfielders Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul), Israel Castro (UNAM), Sinha (Toluca) and Barrera (West Ham) and forward Aldo de Nigris (Monterrey) are the leading candidates.
The international contingent boasts defenders Francisco Javier Rodríguez (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands), Héctor Moreno (Alkmaar Zaanstreek, Netherlands), Márquez (New York Red Bulls, U.S.), who recently suffered a strained groin, midfielder Andrés Guardado (Deportivo Coruna, Spain) and forwards Giovani dos Santos (Racing Santander, Spain) Javier Hernández (Manchester United, England).
Chicharito, who did not play against Ecuador, is expected to amass the most attention on and off the field. Hernández is coming off a marvelous debut season with Manchester United in which the 22-year-old star played a vital role on the English Premier League's championship side. United also lost in the English F.A. Cup semifinals and most recently to an incredible Barcelona team in the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday.
Hernández will be under pressure to fill the net.
"I've played a lot against him in practice, especially since the last World Cup," Márquez said. "He's the type of player that will never give up on the ball. He will always go for it at the end and that makes it complicated for any defender."
The Mexicans, who face Costa Rica, Cuba and El Salvador in the opening round, should be able to finish atop Group A without many major headaches, although Márquez noted that Costa Rica could give the team problems because its coach is a former Mexico national coach – Argentine Ricardo La Volpe.
"So we know its going to be dangerous side to watch," he said.
Still, getting past the first round will be dwarfed by the expectations of June 25.
The U.S. and Mexico are the obvious favorites to reach the finals, and CONCACAF officials have made sure those two arch enemies won't meet until the finals, unless one side grossly underachieves in the group stage and somehow finishes third.
Anything short of reaching the final, if not parading around with the Gold Cup trophy, will be considered a disappointment, if not a catastrophe, for El Tri.
Michael Lewis, who has covered eight World Cups and has been reporting about soccer for four decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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