Mexico hope to break ‘fourth-match jinx’ (Team Profile)

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Mexico City, June 4 (IANS) Mexico, together with Brazil and Germany, are the only teams surviving the group stage at the last six FIFA World Cups. But the CONCACAF giants haven’t managed to make it past the round of 16. It’s as if Mexico’s fourth match at the World Cup is jinxed.

A traditional powerhouse, Mexico played France in the opener of the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. Russia 2018 will be Mexico’s 16th World Cup, and their seventh consecutive appearance, reports Xinhua news agency.

Their best performances came in 1970 and 1986, when they advanced to the quarter-finals as hosts. This summer in Russia, Mexico will undoubtedly go all out to snap their frustrating record.

At the 2014 World Cup, Mexico finished second in a tough group featuring hosts Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon, only conceding the top spot to Brazil on goal difference.

Their play concluded with a 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands in the last 16 round. Mexico booked a spot in Russia 2018 with a 1-0 win over Panama, securing qualification with three matches remaining. They lost just once in their 16 qualifiers.

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Mexico’s attacking power came mainly from their all-time top scorer Javier Hernandez. Extremely quick and agile, Hernandez, who has played for Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen, scored many goals from close range.

His dribbling skill, pace, and ability to find space inside the box are all world class. His minutes-per-goal ratio during his time with Manchester United is still among the most prolific in the history of the English Premier League.

German legend Rudi Voller praised Hernandez’s positioning in front of goal, saying: “He certainly doesn’t win every tackle but he has an incredible sense of where the ball will end up.”

Now playing for West Ham United, the 30-year-old is still sharp and confident.

“We want to be world champions and we don’t want to put any limits on ourselves. Some people complain that we’re not being realistic, but the reality is that if you don’t dream and strive for more, then you’re the one who has it all wrong,” Hernandez said on his expectation from the World Cup.

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Hernandez will likely line up with Hirving Lozano, a 23-year-old rising star who plays for PSV Eindhoven. Lozano may well be the one to watch in Russia 2018.

He enjoyed a scintillating 2017, winning the CONCACAF Champions League with Pachuca, collecting the Golden Boot and also the Best Young Player award. This earned him a move to PSV where he’s hit the ground running. He also scored the only goal in the victory against Panama that secured Mexico’s place in Russia.

As a right-footed left winger, Lozano has an eye for goals and fierce shots. If he continues to impress and can show what he’s worth at the World Cup, PSV might find trouble to hold him on.

Besides Hernandez and Lozano, Mexico also have Miguel Layun (Sevilla), Raul Jimenez (Benfica) and Diego Reyes (Porto). For the first time in their history, Mexico will head to a World Cup with half of their squad playing in Europe.

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Coach Juan Carlos Osorio, a Colombian, is a tactician who is good at making detailed plans. He is also an experienced manager capable of improving the atmosphere in the locker room. Since he took the reins in 2015, Mexico have risen from 18th to 15th in the FIFA rankings.

Mexico have been drawn in Group F with defending champions Germany, Sweden and South Korea. It is not an easy group. Even if Mexico advance as second placed finishers, they will most likely meet Brazil in the next round.

“We have a solid group of players with experience in Europe’s biggest leagues. If Raul, Javier and Hirving are on top of their game, then we can score against anyone,” Osorio said.

–IANS

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