The Mexican national team has a history of being a squad that can cause problems for big teams, yet at the same time finds itself on a constant mission to surpass that World Cup obstacle that they call “The fifth match.” Despite a rich history of soccer, El Tri have yet to make it past the quarter finals of the World Cup. This year, Mexico are in a position where they have the daunting challenge of facing hosts Brazil in the group stage, along with two quality opponents in Croatia and Cameroon to compete with.
Opponents have enjoyed the benefits of having El Tri in their group. In their 15 previous appearances, Mexico played with 13 eventual World Cup semifinalists. On one occasion, in 1962, Mexico played with the two eventual finalists in Czechoslovakia and Brazil in the group stage. This time around, the malaise that is the Mexican national team’s current form of the past year and a half will depend on five players if their fortunes are to have a chance of changing.
1. Guillermo Ochoa
For Memo, this is a moment where his goalkeeping can carry a team a long way in a tournament. It’s amazing to fathom that Ochoa was not part of the 2010 World Cup squad and was snubbed for Oscar Pérez.
Memo Ochoa is the type of goalkeeper that can help a team stay afloat while they endure a tough stretch. He did that for various seasons before Ajaccio’s eventual relegation this past season in Ligue 1. Now the former Club América goalkeeper will have a chance to prove his worth as Mexico’s number one man between the sticks.
2. Javier Hernández
The World Cup will be Chicharito’s time to prove that he is Mexico’s top scoring threat. He is also playing for his future prospects and will feel the need to prove his worth to new Manchester United boss Louis Van Gaal. In order to accomplish this, he will need to cause problems against Brazil, Croatia, and Cameroon. These sides will offer even greater resistance than squads like Israel or Bosnia could from a defensive standpoint.
Sometimes opportunity comes to people in the face of adversity. That is something Hernández is very familiar with dating back to his 2009 season with Chivas. A drop in his form saw him struggling that year, resulting in his relegation to the bench. He needs another return to the form that caught Manchester United’s eye back in 2010.
3. Carlos Alberto Peña
León’s all-terrain midfielder is one of those players that can truly impress individuals in the foreign media. Peña showed up in some of the León’s biggest matches en route to becoming the first team since Hugo Sánchez’ Pumas won back-to-back semester titles nine years ago.
Peña will be counted on heavily by Head Coach Miguel Herrera. The player that was on the Arsenal’s radar is one of the big stars of the past two semester for Gustavo Matosas’ side and will prove to be a difference in the midfield for Mexico should he see his club form translate to the international side.
4. Oribe Peralta
Peralta is the highest profile signing for Club América this current off-season. “El Cepillo” (The Brush) was one of the deadliest scoring threats for Santos Laguna and has emerged as one of Mexico’s top scoring options. With the struggles of the forwards like Hernández, Jiménez, and Dos Santos, Peralta will be looked at as the main target man.
5. Miguel Layún
The 25 year old Layún is coming off a terrific campaign with Club América. His rise to stardom gave Mexico manager Miguel Herrera the “luxury” of experimenting with Andrés Guardado as a defensive midfielder in the match against Israel. Guardado did not have the most successful season at Valencia and played sparingly at Bayer Leverkusen, while Layún’s potential saw him overtake the former Atlas man as the Mexican side number three. Layún will be crucial in anchoring the Mexican defense in Brazil.