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.
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
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.