By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Nov 29, 2017) US Soccer Players – Mexico’s last important match was in September when El Tri wrapped up a World Cup berth with a 1-0 home win over Panama. The next meaningful match it will play will not be until June, somewhere in Russia at the 2018 World Cup.
However, the most important event Mexico will participate in this year will happen soon. The World Cup draw is on Friday in Russia. The fate of Mexico and the other 31 participants will be sealed, fueling months of discussion, research, and illusions for all participating nations and its fans.
For countries like Germany and Spain, the draw will not determine whether they will advance or see their dreams all but crushed before playing a game. For other participants like fellow CONCACAF nation Panama, the stars must line up to provide even a glimmer of hope to advance.
Mexico is somewhere in between, closer to the Germany/Spain group than the Panamas of the tournament. Even though Mexico has gotten out of the group stage in each of their last seven World Cups, not all have been easy. Mexico skated perilously close to the edge of elimination in 2006 and 2010 and needed a late goal to get through to the 1998 knockout stage.
The draw setup has changed as well, as FIFA divided up the participating teams based solely on its own rankings. For Mexico, that means a spot in Pot 2. Predictably, the upper crust resides mostly in Pot 1 while the teams get weaker in Pot 3 and Pot 4. That does not mean the focus for Mexico is solely on Pot 1. Each pot presents scenarios that won’t favor El Tri.
Here’s how the pots break down for Mexico:
Teams: Russia, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France
Overall: World Cup champions galore make up this pot. It may seem like pick-your-poison for Mexico. While that is mostly true, there are some teams that would be less lethal than others. Mexico has never beaten a European team in a World Cup played on European soil. Mexico’s overall record against South American teams is not much better. Despite that, some teams offer more hope than others.
Favorable: Brazil, Belgium, Poland. Mexico does not have a winning record against Brazil in World Cups. In fact, Mexico has not scored a goal against Brazil in four previous World Cup meetings (0-3-1 record, outscored 11-0). What Mexico has done is to play Brazil quite well in tournaments the last couple of decades, including wins over the pentacampeão in Copa America and Confederations Cup meetings. Mexico has a winning record against Belgium in World Cups (2-1-0) although both wins came on Mexican soil. Still, Mexico tied Belgium 2-2 in Germany 1998. Their 3-3 draw earlier this month offered glimpses of both potential future successes and failures. All teams in Pots 2-4 will be crossing their fingers and hoping Poland lands in their group. This is true of Mexico as well.
To avoid: Russia, Germany, Argentina, Portugal, France. Facing one of these nations would be much easier with a less complicated Pot 3 and/or Pot 4 rival. Still, Mexico would be better off not meeting up against one of these teams. Russia may not seem strong, but Mexico has an 0-3-2 record against host nations at World Cups, outscored 10-1 in those games. Mexico failed to beat South Africa in 2010 and almost didn’t make it out of the group. Argentina knocked Mexico out of the 2010 and 2006 World Cups while France and Portugal enter the tournament among the favorites to win it all. Germany is a nightmare.
Teams: Mexico, Spain, Peru, Switzerland, England, Colombia, Uruguay, Croatia
Overall: Mexico may have done favorably against Peru, Colombia and possibly Croatia, but those matches will only happen now in the knockout round, if at all. It is a bonus though knowing Mexico has avoided Spain, Switzerland, and England.
Teams: Denmark, Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Iran
Overall: A step down from Pot 3. Costa Rica and Mexico won’t be in the same group due to both representing CONCACAF.
Favorable: Egypt, Iran, Tunisia, Senegal. Egypt is a first-time World Cup participant. Even though the Egyptians have been waiting for years to reach the World Cup, the frenzy and passion will only carry the team so far. Mexico handled Iran 3-1 in 2006 and would barely break a sweat against Iran this time around as well. Tunisia beat Mexico in their only World Cup meeting, 3-1 in 1978. Tunisia has been a lightweight in recent tournaments. Senegal is not exactly a walkover match, but it’s hard not to see that favoring Mexico.
To avoid: Sweden, Denmark, Iceland. No European teams on European soil for El Tri. Sweden’s defense would pose problems for Mexico. Like Egypt, Iceland is playing in its first World Cup. Iceland is on the rise and is a dark horse candidate to make a run, like it did at Euro 2016.
Teams: Serbia, Nigeria, Australia, Japan, Morocco, Panama, South Korea, Saudi Arabia
Overall: Only a few potential hiccups here, but one of those hiccups paired with tough teams from Pots 1 and 3 could spell disaster for El Tri. Panama and Mexico won’t be in the same group.
Favorable: South Korea, Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia. Mexico has played only South Korea from this group in a World Cup before, and that was a 3-1 win in favor of Mexico in 1998. Australia, Japan, and Saudi Arabia round out the AFC entrants. Mexico is a perfect 3-0 against AFC teams in World Cups.
To avoid: Serbia, Nigeria, Morocco. Serbia is close to Russia, and Mexico would face a tough Serbian team in front of a pro-Serbia crowd. There are better matchups for Mexico. Morocco and Nigeria are not world-beaters, but both nations would make for a more complicated group.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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