El Tri's path out of the group stage in Brazil

Posted by Tom Marshall

Mexico was drawn into a relatively kind group for the 2014 World Cup, with winnable games against Cameroon and Croatia coming on either side of a tough but glamorous fixture against hosts Brazil.

The FMF may wish to reconsider plans to set up a base camp in the southern city of Santos, as Mexico has been given a favorable itinerary with all of its group games to be played in the northeast of the country.

But if Mexico is to reach the second round at a sixth consecutive World Cup next year, then it will have to overcome opponents that are more difficult than those they struggled against in this year's CONCACAF Hexagonal.

At its best, Miguel Herrera's Mexico can pose problems against any side, but El Tri has not been at its best for some time now. With Brazil clear favorites to win the group, second place would be a realistic goal for El Tri.

Mexico vs. Cameroon (Natal, June 13)

This is a winnable opening game and one likely to define Mexico at Brazil 2014. An early 1 p.m. kickoff in the north-east of the country means the temperature is likely to be around 28 C, but both sides should be used to playing in such conditions. Mexico won 1-0 the only time it has ever played Cameroon, in a friendly in 1993, and El Tri's last two games against African sides were among the more encouraging performances of a dire 2013: a 2-2 draw with Nigeria in June and a 4-1 win over Ivory Coast in August.

Cameroon has only made it out of the World Cup group stage once, reaching the quarterfinals in 1990, and will be reliant on the industry of Barcelona's Alex Song in midfield and the prolific threat that Chelsea striker Samuel Eto'o poses up front. Mexico should not underestimate The Indomitable Lions, but if it can keep Eto'o quiet and recover the confidence and flair of those pre-2013 days, it should be able to make a positive start to the tournament.

What Mexico needs: Three points to kick-start the campaign.

Mexico vs. Brazil (Fortaleza, June 17)

Mexico could not have drawn tougher opponents than the hosts, but El Tri has a good record against Brazil in recent years and will draw on the confidence from that famous victory in the final of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Again, it is likely to be a hot and steamy affair, but at least Mexico will not have far to travel from Natal to Fortaleza for this fixture, whereas Brazil will have to fly over 1,400 miles from the opening fixture in Sao Paulo. Brazil will have the advantage of home support, but will also be under much greater pressure to perform. Mexico will have to be at its best defensively and must press tirelessly to nullify the threat carried by the likes of Neymar and Oscar, while whoever leads the line will have to be razor sharp in order seize any chances that come their way against a defense marshalled by Thiago Silva.

What Mexico needs: A draw would represent a very positive result.

Mexico vs. Croatia (Recife, June 23)

As against Brazil, Mexico should benefit from making another short journey to Recife while Croatia must travel over 1,700 miles from Manaus in the heart of the Amazon. It will be hot and humid, with June being the wettest month of the year in Recife, but this should favor the Mexican players more than their Croatian opponents, who will be less accustomed to playing in such a sticky climate. Mexico lost friendly games to Croatia in 1992 and 1999 but triumphed 1-0 in their last encounter at the 2002 World Cup. Quickly closing down Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric and preventing him from controlling the tempo of the game will be crucial to Mexico's chances of success.

What Mexico needs: If the other games go to plan, a tie could be enough.


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