Plenty to think about for Low
Mexico have enough talent in their ranks to worry the Europeans in their last-four clash in Sochi, writes Ian Hawkey
Superstition lurks around the Mexican squad at the Confederations Cup, although the management and players are doing their best to keep it at arm’s length.
The jitters are provoked by the eerie, resonant date for their meeting Germany in the semi-final. It is June 29, and the worry is that, where Mexico are concerned, this D-Day tends to stand for Deutschland Day.
It was on a June 29, 19 years ago, in Montpellier, that Germany inflicted on a lively Mexico what German teams have done so often in international tournaments, a late heartbreak, a clinical suffocation of hopes.
It was the last-16 stage of the World Cup in France, Mexico took the lead against the then European champions through Luis Hernandez just after half time. An ageing Germany seemed vulnerable in the heat. But with crisis approaching, they turned the match around in the last 15 minutes.
Two headed goals, from Jurgen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierhoff, now the general manager of the national team, knocked Mexico out. Supporters wearily packed up their sombreros, and confirmed their return tickets home in the way generations of Mexican fans have become used to.
In every one of the last seven World Cups, Mexico have progressed beyond the first phase of the tournament and then exited before the quarter-finals. The Confederations Cup, a regular date for these frequent champions of Concacaf, the body that governs the Central and North American region, has been kinder, historically, to Mexico.
They won the event in 1999. In 2005, they reached the semi-final, where, cruelly, they lost to Argentina on penalties. That meant a June 29 meeting with Germany in the third-place playoff. Klinsmann was Germany manager and the city of Leipzig, venue for the bronze medal match, was in for a treat.
Germany led three times, Mexico equalised three times. Come extra time, the hosts scored a fourth goal, through Michael Ballack, which the guests could not summon an answer to.
If, on this June 29, on Thursday, there are half as many thrills as in Leipzig, then the city of Sochi will be satisfied, even amid the local regrets that Russia have failed to make the last-four of this tournament, effectively eliminated by a Mexico who have been feisty – their win over New Zealand had flashes of bad temper on the pitch and in the technical area – but also with moments of finesse.
There have been casualties of the feistiness. The seasoned midfielder Andres Guardado is suspended and defender Diego Reyes struggling for fitness, but manager Juan Carlos Osorio has been cheered by the health of striker Javier Hernandez, who had been troubled by a muscle strain. The striker, familiar to many in the German squad from his prolific goalscoring with Bayer Leverkusen, looks ready to start. “We have to be very wary of ‘Chicharito’,” said the German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who appears to have won the joust as the No 1 choice for the tournament, in the absence of the rested Manuel Neuer.
“I’ve faced him before so I know a bit about how he works. He has a great instinct for goal.” There have been 48 of those in Chicharito’s 94 caps. What Mexico have on their side is experience. Only two Germans in the young, experimental squad chosen for this dress rehearsal ahead of the defence of the World Cup next year have more than 30 caps, whereas their opponents on Thursday boast several men who were part of the 2012 Olympic gold medal team.
Plus, if Rafa Marquez, 38, comes in as cover for defensive absences, they will call on a man whose recall stretches back to a Confederations Cup campaign of the last century. Giovani dos Santos, the much-travelled former Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona midfielder, needs two more caps to bring up his century for his country
Dos Santos’s younger brother, Villarreal’s Jonathan, 27, has had an excellent tournament, pulling the strings in midfield while Real Sociedad’s Carlos Vela, who spent many years refusing callups for his country, has provided poise in attack. Never mind the ominous date on the calendar, Mexico have the means to trouble the world champions.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen appears to have won the joust as the No 1 choice for the tournament, in the absence of the rested Manuel Neuer
Germany manager Joachim Low leads his team’s training session at Park Arena in Sochi, Russia, ahead of their clash with Mexico in the Confederations Cup.