World Cup Preview: Brazil v Mexico

Who? Brazil - Mexico
Where? Samara Arena, Samara
When? July 2, 16:00 (CET local time)

Brazil (Vitor Buratini Mendes)

In the last time that Brazil faced Mexico in a competitive match, the game finished in a tie and with a great hero from the Mexican side, Guillermo Ochoa. Brazil will face him once again and the memories of him are frightening.

Back to the match from 2014 World Cup group stage, Ochoa was the key player. He made incredible saves and was able to handle the Brazilian attack on that day. Back then, Neymar was not able to beat the goalkeeper, who was a true barrier.

We will certainly see a great game today. The Mexican team, despite having lost 0-3 against Sweden in the last match, made two good wins, including against powerful Germany. On the Brazilian side, we watch a team that is growing throughout the tournament.

Brazil has improved in each game. The last match began with a scare: the left-back Marcelo got injured and Filipe Luís substituted him in the first minutes. It caused a lot of fear on the Brazilian side since Marcelo is one of the pillars of the team. However, everything went well: Filipe Luis made an excellent match and he seems as good replacement.

The Brazilian squad is facing a lot of injuries: Danilo was injured earlier, and then Douglas Costa and Marcelo joined. Danilo and Marcelo are expected to be available for this match, although Marcelo is not supposed to be part of the lineup. It's unknown yet when Douglas Costa will return to play. Anyway, Brazil will hope that no more players will get injured, although the substitutes made great work as replacements.

The match will be a battle between two great teams from Latin America. If the injuries would not disturb the show, we will see the better team as the winner. Brazil will hope that Ochoa would not make the same performance as in 2014.

Mexico (Meir Lozowick)

2 years ago, Mexico was in one of its lowest points after being eliminated from the Copa America Centenario by Chile. It just wasn’t just another elimination. Mexico lost 0:7 and the ground was shaking beneath Juan Carlos Osorio legs. The public and the press were furious, and the pressure to sack the Colombian manager was massive. Yes, the players were criticized as well, but the main target was the manager. The easiest thing to do was to release the manager from his duties. However, the chairman of the Mexican football association decided not only to keep Juan Carlos Osorio in charge but also grant him any demand that he might have.

After getting clear and loud support, Juan Carlos Osorio started the rebuild the team. He limited the press access to the training ground, as well as creating a direct channel with the European clubs of the players, were the important keys in the manager's plan. In the last 2 years, Osorio visited the players and talked with their managers in their respective clubs in order to maintain the ongoing plan that will benefit the nation team.

Another important aspect was the hiring of Imanol Ibarrondo, former Spanish footballer. Nowadays, he is a mental coach that helps to develop positive attitude and to create a change of thinking. Ibarrondo has created a set of specific rules for the players, so they can improve their mental strength. He obviously recognises that the first thing that the team need is to be in physical shape and well trained, but he and Osorio insist that strengthening the mental side, will improve the results of the team.

The first glimpse of the mental change was winning against the USA in the first time since 1972 in Columbus, Ohio. Mexico couldn’t win there and breaking this streak helped the players to gain confidence. The latest example can be seen against Germany in the first game. Winning against Germany for the first time in history has proved Ibarrondo's methods.

Mexico qualifying to the round of 16 is almost a guaranteed bet, as well as Mexico being eliminated in this stage. Following a hard defeat against Sweden in the last game of the group stage, Mexico has to play against Brazil. Arguably the best team of the tournament. If you want to bet on this game and ask Ibarrondo, he would recommend you to put your money on Mexico, or as a Spaniard he will describe it: “the best test for your ways, is always to do the hard thing, you either win or learn”. He got the opportunity he asked for, now it’s the time to demonstrate that his way is the correct one.

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World Cup Preview: Mexico v Sweden

Who? Mexico - Sweden
Where? Ekaterinburg Arena, Ekaterinburg
When? June 27, 16:00 (CET local time)

Mexico (Meir Lozowick)

If you would ask the Mexican fans how they felt when Toni Kroos scored his decisive goal against Sweden, the majority of those fans would be disappointed. Guaranteed qualification to the round of 16 was already behind the corner, and in one second, elimination from the tournament is still an option. However, if you would ask anyone of the Mexican players how they felt in the last minute of the game, the response will probably be something unrelated. Some would say that slept, others might say that they read a book. But why? Cause the Mexican national team was inside an airplane on route to Moscow back from Rostov. It’s not a coincidence or a matter of finding a cheap flight. The Mexican football association adopted a motto of “don’t look at the neighbour's grass but only your own”. Meaning: the team has to gain the qualification by their own. Gaining it with some help from others would be a nice bonus.

The situation for Mexico is quite clear: win or draw against Sweden will guarantee qualification from the first place in the group. The situation could be very different with losing against Sweden. If that will happen, Mexico would have to do exactly what they don’t want and count on others. Assuming that Germany would win against South Korea by two goals or more, Mexico would be eliminated. The last thing that Mexico would like to do, is to count on South Korea to do their job.

The goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa demonstrate the positive & confident attitude during the press conference, saying that Mexico's faith is in its own legs and this is the only thing that matters. Ochoa put all of his faith in Juan Carlos Osorio's decisions. From his side, Osorio has demonstrated that he can learn the opponent and prepare the team well. He claims that Mexico should break the record this tournament and go the furthest they have ever been. Now it’s on him to show that he can keep up his players to his words. The first step: reaching the round of 16.

Sweden (Yossi Medina)

In the last few days, one name became the main issue in the Swedish national team. Jimmy Durmaz became the main person for critics after the defeat against Germany. Durmaz made the foul who gave the free kick against Sweden and later became the winning goal of Germany.

Durmaz received racial abuse for this incident. Even though he was born in Sweden, people decided to mention his Turkish and Syriac origin. With an experience of 45 international caps for his nation, this abuse that focused his ethnicity was a line that nobody should cross.

In elegant way, Durmaz faced the media few days ago. "When you threaten me, when you can call me a terrorist, then you have gone far beyond the border", said Durmaz. "I am proud to play in the Swedish national team and I will never let any racists destroy that pride", he said as he gives a clear answer to all those people.

Jimmy Durmaz is not the only immigrant that plays in Sweden during this World Cup. His teammate, Isaac Kiese Thelin, was born to a Congolese father. Both won together the U-21 European Championship with Sweden in 2015. Moreover, for years Sweden had Zlatan Ibrahimovic as their captain, another player that is not a native Swedish player.

Sweden will have to work hard against Mexico if they still want to play at the next stage. As usual, they will need to do it together. If in the beginning it was about playing as a team, now it became to be about playing together equally as an all-Swedish team.

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World Cup Preview: South Korea v Mexico

Who? South Korea - Mexico
Where? Rostov Arena, Roston-on-Don
When? June 23, 17:00 (CET local time)

South Korea (Yossi Medina)

Even in the worst-case scenario, South Korea couldn't imagine that they will begin the World Cup so badly. More than the defeat against Sweden, there is one thing that is bolder: South Korea didn't made a single shot on target during the game.

The Korean coach, Shin Tae-Yong will need to find a solution how to make his team more dangerous. It seems that Son Heung-Min, who usually has good performances in Tottenham Hotspur, is struggling to provide the same level in the national team. It's even harder when the center forward is Kim Shin-Wook, who plays in the K-League and scored 10 international goals in 51 caps.

A lot of pressure will be on Kim Min-Woo, the player who made the foul that led to the Swedish penalty kick. Kim plays in Sangju Sangmu, a club that representing the Korean army. If the coach Shin will make him to forget that incident, Kim Min-Woo will lead South Korea defense in this decisive match.

South Korea is fighting for their last chance in this World Cup. Another defeat will mark their way back home too soon.

Mexico (Meir Lozowick)

After beating Germany, Mexico find themselves in an unfamiliar situation: being the favourites of the group. Before the tournament, the match against Germany was the one that Mexico could loose up and yet fight for qualifying from the second place. Not that anyone in Mexico will complain, but this situation put a different type of pressure on the team. Euphoria, excessive over-confidence, and realization that the hardest hurdle is behind them could drop the positive tension & focus.

Unlike the match against Germany, Mexico will not arrive as an underdog but as a big favourite against South Korea. The coach Juan Carlos Osorio must prepare the team differently. South Korea is way less physical than the Germans and play in a total different way. If against Germany, Mexico played with counter attacks, against South Korea they will need to control the game with high possession and be the dominant team. Mexico has players like Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera that know how to hold the ball and distribute it to the attack, but the decision making on the last part of the pitch has to be much better than against Germany.

One of the players that could get into the action is Raul Jimenez. Jimenez is a completely different striker than Chicharito. Jimenez is a big and tall striker that can hold the ball, and more importantly can be the target man in the South Korean area. He was the super sub in Benfica and scored some several important goals that helped Benfica to win two titles in Portugal. Yet, Jimenez had enough of being substitute striker and just before the World Cup began, he moved to Wolves, the newly promoted team of the Premier league in England. Even before his new adventure, Jimenez would like to demonstrate that he can be decisive as a starter. There is no better place to demonstrate it other than the biggest stage of the world.

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World Cup Preview: Germany v Mexico

Who? Germany - Mexico
Where? Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
When? June 17, 17:00 (CET local time)

Germany (Yossi Medina)

The reigning World Cup champions is starting their way to win the title once again. It will be hard as long as the history is against them. Only two teams managed to win the title twice in a row, Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962). More than 50 years no team managed to keep the title for four more years, but Germany believe in their ability to do that.

If we are dealing with records, there is one guy that want to break them, Joachim Löw. In his third World Cup as Germany manager, he can make history with being the coach with the highest number of World Cup wins. The current record set by another Germany coach, Helmut Schön, who made 16 World Cup wins. In order to equal that record, Löw need to win five more matches and Mexico will be his first step.

Another possible record for Germany, or at least a possibility to be close to such one, is the goalscoring record of Miroslav Klose. With 10 goals in his two previous World Cup, Thomas Müller is wishing to make another remarkable tournament. If he want to equal Klose's record, he will aim to score six more goals, one more than the amount he scored in 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

Before speaking of reaching the highest heights, Germany is need to pass thorugh their first match against Mexico, which would not be an easy task. Neverthelss, Germany showed us more than once that they can make anything easier, reminding their previous World Cup opening match, while they thrashed Portugal 4:0. Will Mexico challenge them? It all depends on the ability of the Gemrans.

Mexico (Meir Lozowick)

From the moment that Maradona held in his hands the names in the drawing of the World cup, it’s was clear that Mexico got a very complicated draw.  Not only having tough opponents in the group, but also the order of the games itself, having to play against the current champions Germany and what could be the battle for the 2nd place vs Sweden on the third game. The first immediate conclusion is that the first game against Germany is the most important game. If Mexico could get a very surprising positive result (Even a draw), they will have a huge advantage on the qualification race from group F. Easier said than done. Mexico has never won against Germany in an official game, when the last game between the two teams finished with a 4:1 win for the Germans in last year's Confederations Cup semi-final.

However, on the Mexican side, the optimism is reigning. The players obviously know what they are up front, but according to their declarations, we should expect to an interesting and surprising outcome. Carlos Salcedo, who plays in Germany with Eintracht Frankfurt declared that “although they are one of the best teams, they don’t have a player like Messi, Ronaldo or Neymar”. He also said that the unity of the players in Mexico is not less than the German one. Andres Guardado with a similar statement, claimed that “as a team, we don’t fall from any other, include Germany”.

 The reality is that Mexico would be very satisfied if they could achieve a draw. It will put the two other teams in the group on pressure to gain something against Germany. In a second thought, who said that first game against Germany is a bad draw?

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World Cup Warm-up: Denmark v Mexico

Who? Denmark - Mexico
Where? Brøndby Stadion, Copenhagen
When? June 9, 20:00 (CET local time)

At the beginning of the millenium, Mexico had one of its best teams ever. In 1999 Mexico won the Confederation Cup after beating Brazil at the Final and in 2001 they reached the 2nd place in the Copa America, after defeat against the hosts Colombia. That team Created a lot of expectation going into the World Cup in 2002, only to lose against the US in the round of 16. During this era, most of the players used to play at the domestic league and only few left to play abroad.

Since then, the concept has changed a lot. At the next World Cup, for the first time in its history, Mexico will send a mostly European based team. 17 out of 23 are playing outside of Mexico. 3 of them are in the MLS, the Dos Santos brothers & Carlos Vela, but those 3 left Mexico while they were young and spent most of their careers in European teams.

Another notion is that this time the players insisted on playing all of their preparation games against European teams instead of having US based Friendlies against the local team or South American teams.

There is a big debate about the process of the “Europeanization” and if it is the formula that at least will help Mexico to excel in the World Cup. For the current squad and the administration of the national team there is a clear answer: Europe is the way. Having played only against European teams, Mexico will have one last test before the real deal. This time it will be against Denmark in Copenhagen.

Denmark will have a tough group in the World Cup, playing against France, Peru & Australia. Australia might not be the biggest hurdle, but Peru and of course France won’t be easy games for the Scandinavians. Apart of their biggest star, Christian Eriksen, they have a solid team with names like Kasper Schmeichel as a goalkeeper, young Andreas Christensen as well as Simon Kjær in the defence. Alongside with Eriksen you can find names like Lasse Schöne, Thomas Delaney or the veteran Michael Krohn-Dehli. Another player to keep on eye on is obviously Pione Sisto that can mix up the defences with hisspeed.

With all the respect to South Korea, Denmark will be the perfect test for Mexico just before they meet the real challenges: Germany and Sweden.

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World Cup Warm-up: Mexico v Scotland

Who? Mexico - Scotland
Where? Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
When? June 3, 02:00 (CET local time)

August 11th, 2012, Wembley Stadium. Oribe Peralta just became a national hero in Mexico after scoring twice against Neymar & Brazil and led Mexico to the gold medal. Two years later, he was Mexico's starting XI striker at the World Cup, ahead of Chicharito. Rafa Marquez is a Legend and trying to find a highlight point in his career with Mexico will be a debatable topic that can take for the whole World Cup. Alongside to Peralta and Marquez, there is another veteran player, the goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona.

What is the common between these players? They will all retire from the national team at the end of the World Cup. For Rafa Marquez it will be also a retirements from football. The two others two will probably play one or two more years before the end of their career.

Before they will retire and pass on the team to the next Generation, they have one last objective: to lead Mexico to a successful tournament in Russia and to show for the youngsters in the team that they can achieve things against all the odds. Mexico is about to change and this World Cup will probably be the last one for a some of the players in the current roster. Several veteran players like Guardado, Ochoa and more might play at the next Copa America or Gold Cup tournament, but it is unlikely that they will “survive” until Qatar 2022. On the other hand, several youngsters are already an integral part of the team such as Hirving Lozano, Jesus Gallardo, Erick Gutiérrez and Edson Alvarez.

Back to Marquez, Peralta & Corona. In contrary to Carlos Vela’s story, they will have one last time to show their ability after a long service to their country. Tonight, Mexico will host Scotland in front of a sold-out Estadio Azteca. It will be a farewell match from the fans in Mexico before departing to Europe. For these three players, it will be also a farewell from the Mexican fans.

Those legends might retire from the pitch, but a successful World Cup in Russia will keep them in the Mexican hearts forever.

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World Cup Warm-up: Mexico v Wales

Who? Mexico - Wales
When? May 29, 03:00 (CET local time)
Where? Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA

Mexican fans must be frustrated with Carlos Vela. Vela was one of the biggest stars of the historic U-17 team of Mexico, who won the first U-17 World Cup for Mexico in 2005. After becoming the top goal scorer of the tournament, Arsenal came with an open wallet and purchased the young Chivas striker.

Considered as one of the most talented players, Vela has one big disadvantage: he doesn’t like to work hard and really like to enjoy life. Not that enjoying life is a terrible thing, but Vela doesn’t have the balance, and it literally damaged his career.

In 2010, Vela got suspended from the National team for 6 months after partying all night long with several team mates. Vela was upset that he (alongside Efrain Juarez) was the only one that has been suspended, and 6 months of suspension became to a 4 years of absence from the national team, missing the World cup in Brazil in 2014.

Vela had eventually a good club career, mainly with Real Sociedad, but there is always a “What if?” question above his head. Lately, Vela opened a new chapter in his life. He is a young father and moved in January to the newest addition of the MLS, LAFC, as the biggest star of the club and one of the biggest names of the League.

In his new place, Vela quickly became the player he once was supposed to be, showing a great attitude and impressive performance on the pitch. Now Vela has a new challenge: to leave off his previous World Cup miss and help Mexico make a successful tournament. The first step will take place tonight in the warm-up match against Wales in his new hometown, Los Angeles.

Who knows, maybe at last Vela will fulfil his potential and party again. This time with Mexico on the pitch.

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