Failure to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup looked, at one point, like a real possibility for Mexico.
Until the United States secured a dramatic win against Panama in the final round of World Cup qualifiers, El Tri looked set to miss out on the tournament for the first time since 1990.
Costa Rica had defeated 2-1 on a dramatic final day of qualifying, but the Americans scored two late goals in their game to defeat Panama 3-2.
As a result, Mexico finished fourth in the final group stage of World Cup qualifiers in the CONCACAF region and had to play against Oceania’s representative, New Zealand, in a World Cup play-off match.
Miguel Herrera replaced Victor Manuel Vucetich as manager after the loss against Costa Rica and, in doing so, became Mexico’s fourth coach in under a year.
Vucetich had replaced Luis Fernando Tena as coach of El Tri and, before him, Jose Manuel de la Torre was in charge until Honduras defeated the Mexicans 2-1 in September at the iconic Azteca Stadium.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 31, 2014
Herrera was happy not to call-up Mexico’s European-based stars such Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez and Villarreal’s Giovani Dos Santos for the World Cup play-offs, preferring to rely on players based in Mexico’s Liga MX.
Even without their stars from overseas, the Mexicans were rampant over the two legs against the Kiwis, winning 5-1 in Mexico City and 4-2 in Wellington.
The clear standout in the play-offs was Oribe Peralta, who scored a brace against New Zealand in the first leg before scoring a hat-trick in the away encounter.
The 30-year-old Peralta was one of Mexico’s three overage players at the London 2012 Olympics and scored both goals in his team’s 2-1 win in the final against Brazil.
Some of his teammates from the triumph in London will be joining in him in Brazil, such as Diego Reyes, Hector Herrera, Javier Aquino, Miguel Ponce and Raul Jimenez.
The majority of those players are under 25 years of age and the Mexicans have been doing well at youth level in recent years.
Aside from their Gold Medal victory at the 2012 Olympics, Mexico finished third at the 2011 FIFA Under 20s World Cup and won the Under 17s World Cup in the same year. Mexico’s Under 17s squad had also reached the World Cup final again last year, only to lose 3-0 to Nigeria.
Despite their recent success at youth level, El Tri will need to make a bigger impact at senior level. The Mexicans have reached the World Cup quarter-finals twice in their history, reaching that stage in both 1970 and 1986, when they were the hosts.
Mexico is in Group A with hosts Brazil, as well as Croatia and Cameroon. And, despite all of the upheavals during qualification, the Mexicans might fancy their chances of reaching the knockout stages, especially because they did beat the Brazilians in London on their way to Olympics gold.
On that day, Mexico defeated a Brazilian side featuring a certain Neymar in their team.
Herrera has brought some of the foreign-based stars back for the World Cup, as well as the local talents and the youngsters. He has still selected the out of form ‘Chicharito’, who struggled for regular playing time under former Manchester United manager David Moyes, but Dos Santos could make an impact at the World Cup.
The Villarreal forward scored 11 goals 31 matches for El Submarino Amarillo in La Liga this season and also had eight assists.
Unfortunately for the Mexicans, they will still be without Real Sociedad winger Carlos Vela, who scored 16 goals in 37 La Liga matches in 2013/14. He has taken an international hiatus since falling out with former Mexican coach de la Torre in 2011.
Herrera was surprised by Vela’s lack of commitment to the Mexican national team, but the winger’s choice disappointed the coach even more because Herrera himself was cut from Mexico’s squad on the eve of the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
“I really suffered when I missed out on the World Cup,” Herrera told FIFA.com.
“I worked my socks off trying to get there and when they made the final cut they left me out.”
El Tri went on to reach the second round, only to lose on penalties to tournament surprise packets Bulgaria.
Herrera has now made it to the World Cup as a manager, but he will be without midfielder Luis Montes, who broke his leg in Mexico’s 3-1 win against Ecuador a pre-World Cup friendly.
He is also expected to take a punt on former Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez, who also sustained a foot injury in a recent friendly.
For all the highs and lows of 2013, Mexico seems to have put its worries aside and overcome any potential obstacles.
Even if current stars don’t perform for Herrera’s team, a new one or two might emerge for El Tri.