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

The National - News - Sport - - CONFEDERATIONS CUP - sports@then­ational.ae

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

Ar­mando Ba­bani / EPA

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.

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