Published June 23, 2014
After a rocky qualification just to get to the World Cup, Mexico has exceeded expectations in defeating Cameroon 1-0, and drawing with host nation Brazil, 0-0. Even so, El Tri finds itself in a do-or-die situation in its last group stage match against Croatia on Monday afternoon.
While both teams have put together stretches of brilliant soccer, neither has been totally convincing. If it weren't for a sensational performance by goalie Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico would have lost decisively to Brazil on Tuesday of last week. Croatia did just that on June 12, 3-1, although there was a terrible penalty call that added to that total.
Croatia's star midfielder, Luka Modric, said Sunday that Mexico benefited from some luck in its scoreless draw with Brazil.
Mexico coach Miguel Herrera says he's happy to be lucky if that means advancing in the World Cup.
"If we have a draw with Brazil with luck or without it, we did it, they didn't," Herrera said.
Mexico needs only another tie against Croatia to advance to the second round, while the Croatians must win.
After practice Sunday night, Herrera and defender Hector Moreno appeared at a news conference where they generally avoided opportunities to respond to some of the verbal jousts issued earlier in the day by Modric and Croatia coach Niko Kovac.
Kovac suggested that his side has the requisite caliber of attacking players to become the first to score against "El Tri" and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in this World Cup, adding that "if anyone's knees should be trembling," it should be those of the Mexicans.
"We could talk about 1,000 things here, and we could go through 1,000 circumstances that would lead us to believe that one (team) is better than the other," Herrera said. "What we have to do is prove it on the pitch.
"Mexico has played a World Cup in which we've proven we have an attitude of determination. It is a robust team. It is a team that has not conceded goals. It is a team that is doing things right."
Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa could be challenged again by a Croatia side that is coming off a 4-0 victory over Cameroon, and which has several key players — from Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic to Real Madrid's Modric — who have put together successful careers in Europe's top leagues.
Mexico defender Hector Moreno, who plays for Spanish side Espanyol and has faced Modric in La Liga play, said Mexico has no lack of respect for Croatia's talent, "but Mexico also has great individuals and we have a great team."
Moreno added that he's "not attaching a great deal of importance" to comments made earlier Sunday by Modric and Kovac.
"We will see everything on the pitch," Moreno said. "We will see on the field who has better players and who has a better team — and I fully trust it will be Mexico."
For Herrera, the fact that Croatia has a number of players from top European leagues should provide that much more motivation for El Tri to show the world — and European scouts at the World Cup— what Mexican football is all about.
Thus far, Mexico has managed just one goal, scored by Oribe Peralta in a 1-0 victory over Cameroon. Manchester United striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez not only has yet to score, but hasn't cracked the starting lineup, instead coming in as a second-half substitute. Herrera said he isn't planning any changes to his lineup, meaning Hernandez will open a third straight match on the bench.
Both teams practiced on wet turf at Arena Pernambuco because of intermittent showers throughout Sunday, and more rain was in the forecast for Monday. Herrera joked that Mexico seems to have brought ran with it wherever it has traveled in Brazil. But El Tri has also brought fans — lots of them.
A cruise ship with several thousand Mexican supporters aboard is docked in the port of Recife, and many more have been seen throughout town.
Herrera said he's expecting a heavily pro-Mexico crowd to push his players.
''Of course, we have the idea, the feeling of what people in Mexico are going through, with the dreams that we've created," Herrera said. "We will come out onto the field to give everything so we can obtain the objective we have set before us."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.