World Cup 2014: MX Factor leaving Mexico as the great underachievers

Mexico open against Cameroon on Friday

It is a familiar issue: how to convert a popular, lucrative, competitive domestic league into a successful national team? It has been the question England have been asking for years but it is also true with Mexico, who begin their campaign against Cameroon in Natal on Friday.

Mexico could claim to be the biggest underachievers in world football. They are one of the great football nations, having staged the World Cup twice, in 1970 and 1986. But those two tournaments were the only times they have reached the quarter-finals, and even then they went no further.

Their record is consistent – this is their sixth consecutive World Cup, and in the last five they always got out of their group – but ultimately modest. They should be doing better, given the success of the domestic league.

Liga MX is one of the most popular leagues in the world. The average attendance, of 22,500, is lower than only the Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League. The television rights, which clubs sell individually rather than together, are fought over in Mexico and in the United States, where it is more watched on Univision than the Premier League is on the NBC network. The second leg of the Clausura final between Leon and Pachuca last month drew almost five million viewers in the US, one third of its likely Mexican viewership.

 

This means the clubs can pay generous salaries to imported stars. Humberto Suazo, the Chilean striker, is paid $3million (£1.8m) annually by Monterrey. The average salary – $500,000 – is five times what it is in Major League Soccer. Good South American players are bought in, at the expense of home-grown talent. The top scorer in last season’s Liga MX Clausura championship was Ecuador’s Enner Valencia.

Outside of Mexico, striker Javier Hernandez has experienced mixed fortunes at Manchester United while Carlos Vela, performing well for Spanish side Real Sociedad, is in exile from the national team.

So Giovani Dos Santos, formerly of Barcelona, Tottenham and Ipswich Town, is likely to start up front. He will be joined by Oribe Peralta, arguably the best Mexican striker in Liga MX, in head coach Miguel Herrera’s 5-3-2 system.

There is just as much expectation as ever in Mexico but it has been another dramatic few years. The year of 2012 was a high point, with the team beating Brazil to win the gold medal at the Olympic games in London. Ten players from the Olympics are in the World Cup squad. Since that win, though, Mexico have been in a mess. They finished fourth in the six-team Concacaf group, winning just two of their 10 games, and needed a play-off victory against New Zealand to reach this tournament.

Herrera has re-established some solidity, building around goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and defensive lynchpin Rafael Marquez, who will become the first ever man to captain a team in four World Cups. There is exciting young talent too, in wing-back Miguel Layun and attacking midfielder Marco Fabian. Whether this side are good enough to reach the quarter-finals, and satisfy a nation of 120 million football fans, will become clear soon enough.

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