By Tom Marshall, Goal.com
Only Mexico, Germany and Brazil have reached the Round of 16 in each of the last five World Cups, and El Tri was given a boost in increasing that to six on Friday after being drawn in Group A of the World Cup, alongside Brazil, Cameroon and Croatia.
After the rollercoaster of qualifying and almost not making the World Cup, Mexico is ironically now in a better position than the United States to advance from the group stage, with El Tri’s rivals - which topped CONCACAF qualifying - being drawn in Group G with Portugal, Germany and Ghana and playing in cities spread far and wide.
In comparison, Mexico’s group games are all in northeastern Brazil, with fewer than 500 miles between Fortaleza, Natal and Recife.
The second game for El Tri against Brazil will grab the headlines and offer a bit of glamor for Mexico, even if the hosts did defeat El Tri 2-0 in the Confederations Cup. Few nations have as good a record against the Verde-Amarela as Mexico and El Tri should have nothing to lose, with all the pressure on Brazil at home.
But that will depend on the first game in Natal against Cameroon, which Mexico really can’t afford to lose. It is set up to be the decisive match for El Tri.
Mexico has a poor record against African nations in the World Cup and hasn’t won in three attempts, drawing in 2010 against South Africa and in 2006 against Angola.
Javier Aguirre was satisfied with that opening tie against South Africa in the last World Cup, but Miguel Herrera will be going out to win against The Indomitable Lions and it is the right strategy considering the second game against Brazil is a much more difficult proposition than France was four years ago.
In Mexico’s favor is the fact Cameroon has faced very few top sides over the last couple of years and when it did – against Colombia – it lost 3-0. Plus, Cameroon is ranked down in 51st by FIFA and is only ninth in Africa.
The solid, Luka Modric-driven Croatia is an entirely different proposition and sits in 16th in the FIFA rankings. With Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic on fire and Modric pulling the strings, the Balkan side will be a strong test for Mexico, but one that El Tri should relish and can get points from.
The caveat to all the above is that Mexico must play better than it has in 2013. If not, El Tri won’t get near the knockout rounds. It is as simple as that.
For Mexico fans that dare to look beyond the group and to a potential “fifth game” or quarterfinal, there was bad news from Friday’s draw. The qualifiers from Group A will play Spain, Holland, Chile or Australia.
You’d have to think that getting pat Spain or Holland would be too much for this Mexico side.
But after Mexico met just one of the federation’s stated goals in a dire 2013 – making the World Cup – the whole country should be happy in the knowledge that if Herrera can get El Tri ticking, there is every chance Mexico can maintain its impeccable World Cup consistency.