Mexico has made at least the knockout round in every World Cup since 1994, and once again will attempt to in a winner-take-all game against Croatia in Recife. Unlike Mexico’s previous two games, one against arguably the worst team in the tournament (Cameroon) and the other against a team that Mexico seems to have the number of (Brazil), Croatia need this one as much as Mexico does. El Tri don’t need as much from the match though, needing only a draw to advance.
In each of Mexico’s previous two matches, Mexico was able to dominate in stretches through their midfield play. Cameroon offered little resistance and Brazil was foiled by the best game of Gallito Vasquez’s international career to date. Croatia’s midfield will not suffer from the same problem, especially when Luka Modric and Ivan Ratkitic can take control of games so easily. There will be a lot of pressure on not only Vasquez, but Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado as well to somehow shackle those two as much as possible.
The key to Mexico’s successful results has been the play of the wing backs Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layun, their dominance in wide areas has allowed them to create plenty of chances that they’ve either been unlucky not to finish or had wrongly ruled out. Croatia has a weakness out wide not only with their fullbacks, but also possibly in exploiting Persicic and Ivica Olic tracking back. If Mexico is to get the result they need, once again the wide play has to be stellar.
The crucial question is whether Mexico should sit back and play for the draw, and the answer emphatically is no. Against a team that can exhibit the midfield control that Croatia can, sitting back and waiting to pounce on a counter is absolutely the wrong way to do things. Mexico’s best chance will be to disrupt the rhythm of Modric, Ratkitic, and Kovacic as much as possible so that they cannot get into a passing rhythm and find the holes in the spaces behind Mexico’s wing backs. The space will be there, it is just a matter of finding it. Also, with Mario Mandzukic back in the fold and firing well already, Mexico have to cut off the supply lines because he will finish almost any good chance he gets. Another great game from Jose Vasquez is essential. If Mexico try to play for the point, it’s almost certain Croatia will get three and advance. So Miguel Herrera has to continue to go with what was has worked, and get some great midfield play once again for Mexico to advance.