Before we get to the lineups for Cameroon vs Mexico (thanks to Miguel Herrera for already revealing the Mexico’s Starting XI last night), let’s set the scene.
Betamax to VHS. The Zune to the iPod. MySpace to Facebook. Napoleon to the Duke of Wellington. Alabama to Auburn in the 2013 Iron Bowl. “K-9” to “Turner and Hooch.” Brazil to Uruguay in 1950. But for Cameroon, Croatia, and Mexico in the World Cup’s Group A, there will be no shame in finishing second.
The World Cup’s beauty lies not only in bringing nations from all over the globe together, but also in setting up the kind of high stakes that give juice to matches between intercontinental strangers like Mexico and Cameroon. With Brazil heavy favorites to take one of Group A’s two knockout berths, (Nate Silver gives Brazil a 99.3% probability of advancement) both Mexico and Cameroon know that they must play with the desperation and determination of Billy Zane clawing for a lifeboat on the Titanic.
They play in the Cup’s, and Group A’s, second match on Thursday at Natal’s visually arresting Arena Das Dunas. History is no guide here as Mexico downed Cameroon 1-0 in their only prior meeting in a 1993 friendly played at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Despite their turgid qualifying campaign and managerial turmoil, Mexicans expect their squad’s streak of five consecutive trips to the Round of 16 to continue. Rafa Marquez, the vanguard for Mexicans playing in Europe, makes his fourth World Cup appearance for El Tri and captains Mexico for the second time. Manager Miguel Herrera favors a 5-3-2 formation. While injuries have ravaged Mexico’s midfield their strength upfront could save them. Oribe “The Brush” Peralta, the star of Mexico’s 2012 Olympic triumph over Brazil, will be paired with the resurgent Giovani “Uno” Dos Santos. Dos Santos flamed out at Barcelona and Tottenham, and after a few more seasons of unfulfilled promise, finally found a groove at Villarreal. The backup, for now, is former Old Trafford wunderkind Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Goals from all three could paper over the squad’s cracks to pip past Croatia and Cameroon for that second spot.
For a brief time Cameroon were the world’s second favorite side as they went on a magical run in the 1990 World Cup before capitulating to a grateful England in the quarterfinal. Then, their talisman was the supposedly ancient 38-year old Roger Milla. Now, they are led by the supposedly ancient 33-year old Samuel Eto’o. He still has the speed to create space for himself and his teammates. It will be interesting to see how Marquez and Eto’o handle each other, as both shined at Barcelona for years. Eto’o will be alone upfront in a likely 4-5-1 formation that could allow him to change a match in a flash. Current Barcelona man Alex Song has the potential to boss the midfield.
Both sides’ entertaining strikers will make this an exciting match as there should be plenty of chances upfront. With so much on the line, let’s call it a draw 2-2. Make sure to watch on Univision for extra jolt of juice, especially for those of us watching on West Coast time at 9AM.
Group A, Game 2: Mexico v. Cameroon
Time: 12 ET / 9am PT
Place: Natal’s Arena Das Dunas
TV: ESPN2, WatchESPN.com, Univision
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