They were clearing up the debris from the parties that celebrated Brazil’s opening victory into the early hours but the 3-1 win in Sao Paulo put the other fixture in Group A into very sharp focus.
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Mexico and Cameroon know they are fighting for second place and the disarray that accompanied the two teams to Brazil gives neither side much cause for confidence. The losers in Natal today can expect to be making their preparations for an early return journey, something Mexico, who have got through their group in the last five World Cups, are not used to.
Cameroon nearly did not arrive at all, delaying their flight to South America following disputes over bonus payments but, given the fact they have won only one game in four World Cups since Gary Lineker’s penalties denied them a place in the semi-finals of Italia 90, you wonder just how many of those bonuses will be paid out to Volker Finke’s side.
Too much, as ever, appears to rest on the shoulders of Samuel Eto’o, who may have won three European Cups with Barcelona and Inter Milan, but who was unable to deliver in South Africa four years ago. Nevertheless, a 2-2 draw with Germany in Berlin as they prepared for Brazil showed what Cameroon might be capable of.
Mexico: Group A team profile
Mexico: Group A team profile
1/5 How they qualified
Mexico edged into the World Cup play-offs in dramatic fashion after two late goals from USA sunk Panama which allowed El Tri to secure a fourth-place finish in the CONCACAF qualifying group. Indeed, Panama were set to leapfrog Miguel Herrera’s side on the final matchday of World Cup qualification but were left heartbroken when their 2-1 lead was reversed by USA in stoppage time. Instead Mexico entered and successfully negotiated a two-leg play-off with New Zealand, thus rectifying an unconvincing campaign.
Miguel Herrera has been given the job on a permanent basis after initially being announced as interim Mexico coach in October, ahead of November’s World Cup play-off with New Zealand. The 45-year-old was brought in when previous coach Victor Manuel Vucetich was relieved of his duties after just two games in charge. Herrera retained control of Mexican club side Club America simultaneously because he was offered no guarantee that his position in charge of the national side would continue beyond the second leg against New Zealand on November 20. And Club America have since confirmed that Herrera will remain in charge for the rest of the domestic season. The manager successfully won the backing of the Mexican Federation of Football - who want to secure his services until 2018 - following the emphatic style with which he guided Mexico to their sixth consecutive World Cup finals.
3/5 Star player
The current star of Mexican outfit Santos Laguna, Oribe Peralta, has seen his international career really take off in the last year. The 29-year-old can be regarded as a late bloomer, having only risen to prominence in the past 18 months after initially making his debut back in 2005. He scored twice in the Gold Medal match against Brazil at the London 2012 Olympics which secured Mexico’s first Olympic crown, and has been in superb form for his country ever since. Peralta has hit 10 goals in his last 11 international games, including a hat-trick in the 4-2 win over New Zealand in the World Cup play-off. He has managed to squeeze Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez out of the team and Mexico will be reliant on their in-form talisman to come up with the goods if they wish to make their mark.
4/5 Emerging talent
22-year-old Raul Jimenez travelled to the London Olympics with the gold medal-winning Mexico side last summer, but failed to make an appearance as his country beat Brazil to land their first ever Olympic football medal. It says something about his progression, however, that Jimenez has muscled his way into Miguel Herrera’s senior national side while the majority of his Olympic teammates have gradually fallen by the wayside. The forward scored a remarkable acrobatic goal to see Mexico past Panama in the group stages; a goal which ultimately – despite a little help from USA on the final matchday - secured El Tri a play-off berth.
5/5 How they will line up (5-3-2)
Ochoa; Marquez, Rodriguez, Aguilar, Moreno, Layun; Jimenez, Medina, Dos Santos; Oribe Peralta, Javier Hernandez
Mexico are in not much better shape, having got through four managers in the space of six weeks in 2013, which saw them almost fail to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 24 years.
Their campaign was rescued by Miguel Herrera’s decision to employ only home-grown players for the play-off with New Zealand which only added to Javier Hernandez’s forgettable season at Manchester United.
Hernandez is likely to start on the bench at the Arena das Dunas this evening with the former Tottenham forward, Giovanni dos Santos, given the task of spearheading the Mexican attack in a game they have to win.