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World Cup preview: Mexico

Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia, Sports Mole assesses the chances of Mexico, who have been eliminated in the last 16 in each of the past six tournaments.

A fixture of the World Cup for almost three decades now, Mexico will travel to Russia 2018 hoping to finally break through the ceiling which has limited them since 1986.

El Tri will be appearing in their seventh consecutive World Cup this summer, but each of the last six have ended in the round of 16.

The Mexico team line up before their friendly game with Scotland on June 2, 2018© Reuters

Nonetheless, Mexico is a nation synonymous with World Cup history having also hosted the tournament twice, bringing colour, entertainment and some of the competition's most iconic moments to our screens in 1970 and 1986.

Here, Sports Mole assesses their chances of success in Russia.


GROUP

Mexico will fancy their chances of getting out of the group stages for the seventh tournament in a row, having been drawn alongside Germany, Sweden and South Korea in Group F.

World Cup Group F

Defending champions Germany will, of course, be favourites to top the pile - as they have done each time since 1986 - but the determination to upset the holders will only be heightened by the likelihood of the group winners avoiding Brazil in the last 16.

Should the games go as expected, though, Mexico's final group encounter against Sweden could be a straight shootout for second place, although Korea may have something to say about that.

MEXICO FIXTURES

June 17: Germany vs. Mexico (4pm, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow)
June 23: South Korea vs. Mexico (4pm, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don)
June 27: Mexico vs. Sweden (3pm, Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Mexico rarely have trouble qualifying from the CONCACAF section, and this time was no different as they passed through their 16 matches with just one defeat - in their final match against Honduras when their place in Russia had long since been confirmed.

Not since 1966 have Mexico gone through a qualifying campaign with fewer defeats, and they ended the section five points clear of second-placed Costa Rica to keep themselves above the drama which went on behind them.

Mexico's players celebrate qualifying for the 2018 World Cup© Reuters

The first group stage saw Mexico drop just two points from their six games - again in the final match with qualification assured - before sealing their spot in this summer's tournament with three games to spare in the second phase.

Mexico went through qualifying with the best defensive record in their section too, conceding only eight goals from their 16 matches over both phases.


RECENT FORM

Mexico have crammed in plenty of friendlies between qualifying for Russia 2018 and the tournament itself getting underway, including three matches in the past fortnight.

Osorio would have been slightly worried by his side's failure to make the most of their clear-cut chances against Wales at the end of last month, coming up against a stubborn Wayne Hennessey in a one-sided goalless draw.

Mexico's Raul Jimenez in action during his side's international friendly with Scotland in June 2018© Reuters

The 1-0 win over Scotland five days later was also far from an ideal performance, but Giovani dos Santos's early goal did at least get El Tri back to winning ways after a two-game winless run.

An inability to convert would also prove costly in Mexico's final pre-World Cup friendly, though, as fellow finalists Denmark rallied late on to win 2-0 in Brondby.

Osorio's men have therefore scored just one in their last four matches and conceded three at the other end - not ideal when Germany are first up for them in Russia.


SQUAD

Mexico World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul).

Defenders: Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt), Diego Reyes (Porto), Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad), Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Edson Alvarez (America), Jesus Gallardo (Monterrey), Miguel Layun (Sevilla).

Midfielders: Rafael Marquez (Atlas), Hector Herrera (Porto), Jonathan Dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Giovani Dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt).

Forwards: Javier Hernandez (West Ham), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Oribe Peralta (America), Jesus Manuel Corona (Porto), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC), Javier Aquino (Tigres), Hirving Lozano (PSV Eindhoven).


STAR PLAYER - Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez in action for Mexico on June 29, 2017© Reuters

Javier Hernandez has built up a reputation as being the ultimate goal poacher - and for good reason. Quite simply, the West Ham United striker has a habit of popping up in the right place at the right time.

Forty-nine goals in 101 international caps is a record that cannot be argued against, and it will be down to 'Chicharito' to lead the line for his nation in Russia this summer.

A lack of playing time in his maiden campaign at the London Stadium has led to talk of a summer exit being on the cards, so Hernandez can consider himself in the shop window over the coming weeks.

The goalscoring rate has declined across the last two seasons, but the 30-year-old has previously showed his quality on the world stage, netting against France and Argentina in 2010 and adding to his tally with a solitary strike in Brazil four years ago.


MANAGER - Juan Carlos Osorio

Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio on July 2, 2017© Reuters

Fans of Manchester City may just remember the name of Juan Carlos Osorio, who served as a coach at the club under Kevin Keegan and Stuart Pearce between 2001 and 2006.

The Colombian moved into management himself with Millonarios in 2006, going on to spend spells at clubs across the Americas, including in the USA, Mexico, Brazil and back in his native country.

Osorio spent less than five months in charge of Sao Paulo before taking over Mexico and going on a 22-match unbeaten run, although that was ended in embarrassing fashion as they fell to a 7-0 defeat at the hands of Chile in the quarter-finals of the Copa America.

The 56-year-old was then handed a five-game ban by FIFA for his actions in the third-placed playoff at the Confederations Cup, while he is understood to have rejected the chance to extend his Mexico contract, so he could well be one to watch for any off-field drama in Russia.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Quarter-finals (1970, 1986)

Mexico players celebrate beating Croatia at the 2014 World Cup© Reuters

Mexico's current run of reaching the last 16 in each of the last six tournaments may have grown frustrating for fans who want to see them push on, but prior to USA 1994 El Tri had only ever progressed from the group stages when they had hosted the tournament.

Both quarter-final appearances have come on home soil, with Mexico losing to the eventual runners-up on both occasions - Italy in 1970 and West Germany in 1986.

Prior to that legendary 1970 tournament Mexico had been eliminated in the group stages in five successive tournaments - and they also suffered the same fate in 1930 and 1978 - but they are now regular fixtures of the knockout rounds.

Four years ago they passed through the group stages unbeaten - including a draw with hosts Brazil - only to succumb to a heartbreaking late Netherlands comeback in the last 16 as the Oranje scored in the 88th and 94th minutes to win 2-1.

Mexico's appearance at Russia 2018 will make it their most successful ever World Cup run, appearing in seven consecutive tournaments for the first ever time.

Overall, El Tri have played 53 World Cup matches, winning 14, drawing 14 and losing 25 of those with 57 goals scored and 92 goals conceded.


PREDICTION

Mexico's recent habit of qualifying from the groups but crashing out in the last 16 is likely to continue this summer, with our projection having them finish second in Group F behind Germany.

Should that happen then Brazil would be the most likely opponents in the first knockout round, and that is a match Mexico would do very well to win.

VERDICT: Last 16

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How far will Mexico go at this summer's World Cup?

Group Stages
Last 16
Quarter-finals
Semi-finals
Runners-up
Winners
Group Stages
16.7%
Last 16
50.0%
Quarter-finals
16.7%
Semi-finals
16.7%
Runners-up
0.0%
Winners
0.0%
Javier Hernandez in Mexico training on October 4, 2017
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