Sven-Goran Eriksson and Mexico could not have wished for a tougher start to the final six-team ‘Hexagonal' phase of North, Central American and Caribbean qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Up first for El Tri is a trip north to face fierce rivals the United States, where Mexico have gone more than decade without an away win. As if that were not enough, the inhospitable climate of the city of Columbus, Ohio, where the game is to take place, is sure to come as a shock to many of the Azteca contingent.
For all that, and in contrast to the build-up to recent encounters between the CONCACAF neighbours, Los Tricolores look to be approaching the game in relaxed mood. Eriksson's men have spent the last week training together, a rare luxury in international football, and arrived in the USA on Saturday in order to fully acclimatise for Wednesday's encounter which FIFA.com users can follow LIVE via the EMIRATES MatchCast.
No special treatment
"It's our most difficult game just because it's our first (in the Hexagonal)," Mexico keeper Oswaldo Sanchez told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. "But all our matches will be equally tough," added the Santos Laguna star.
"Given the atmosphere that has built up around this match, of course we want to start with a win," says Sanchez, in reference to the fierce rivalry between the opposing camps. "But winning our other encounters will be just as important to us. Perhaps the most difficult aspect will be the climate as we're not used to playing in these temperatures," he continued. "Not that it makes us nervous, we're relaxed and looking forward to getting off on the right foot."
Echoing that sentiment was defender Ricardo Osorio. "Of course they're going to try to take advantage of the weather and pitch conditions," said the Stuttgart man. "It makes no difference to me if I play on the best or worst pitches around, at the end of the day we have to win any which way."
Back in the fold
Outside the Mexico national-team's inner sanctum, the general feeling among fans is one of scepticism. Not only do Eriksson's men go into the game on the back of a run of poor results, but their last away win against the USA was way back in 1997. Also missing for El Tri are key performers such as the injured Andres Guardado and Jonny Magallon, while fellow established stars Fernando Arce, Carlos Vela and Gerardo Torrado are suspended.
One man who is available is Nery Castillo, who returned to the Tricolor fold in late 2008 after a lengthy spell in the international wilderness. "It's better for us that we're not favourites," said the Shakhtar Donetsk forward. "The only way to come through this bad spell is by scoring goals and I think that 11 February is an ideal day to start."
Other players with a point to prove are Giovani Dos Santos, Leandro Augusto, Luis Perez and Guillermo Franco, who all return after periods away from the El Tri scene. A further boost came with the news that Aaron Galindo and Rafael Marquez had overcome injuries that had put their involvement in jeopardy.
All in all, it would seem that Mexico have decided a relaxed approach is the best way to begin their assault on the Hexagonal. Firmly placed in the role of underdogs this time round, Los Verdes will be hoping the tag of favourites weighs as heavily on the Stars and Stripes' shoulders as it has on theirs in recent years.
Follow all the action from the big match via the EMIRATES MatchCast on FIFA.com (available in English and Spanish)