After six rounds of games in the final six-team qualifying group in the CONCACAF Zone, Mexico find themselves in third place, three points adrift of Costa Rica and five behind section leaders USA.
It is a position El Tri are unaccustomed to finding themselves in, and one of the most worrying aspects of their campaign so far is the fact that each of the three qualifiers they have played at their Estadio Azteca stronghold has ended in goalless draws. On the road, meanwhile, the Mexicans have registered one win and two draws.
In the coming days they take on Honduras and old rivals USA, with valuable points at stake in their quest to claim a place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Before heading off with the rest of Jose Manuel de la Torre’s squad to prepare for the vital double-header, Mexico’s central defender Hector Moreno spoke to FIFA.com about El Tri’s current position and what the future might hold for them.
“We’ve lacked the variation you need to break down teams who pack their defence,” said Moreno, in reference to Mexico’s scoring problems at home. “They know too much about us and we haven’t been able to open them up. We’ve spoken about it with the coaching staff and we hope things will change in the Honduras game.”
The 25-year-old defender, who plays his club football for Espanyol, added: “We haven’t won at home yet and that’s a pretty serious state of affairs in a qualifying competition. It’s essential we pick up three points against Honduras, and we’re really looking forward to the game. We know we’ve got to turn things around.”
Two points dropped
In their previous meeting in the group Mexico and Honduras played out a 2-2 draw in San Pedro Sula. With only 13 minutes remaining, the Mexicans led 2-0 courtesy of a brace by Javier Chicharito Hernandez. Rather than close the game out, however, they allowed the Hondurans to hit back and steal a point when Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson scored within three minutes of each other.
Moreno has bittersweet memories of that March afternoon: “We completely dominated the game, which was played in a hostile atmosphere and in searing heat that made it very hard to play. The team showed a lot of character, though, and we outplayed them.”
We couldn’t be more motivated because we know that winning these two games would be a huge step towards Brazil for us.
Despite letting two points slip on that occasion, Moreno is hopeful ahead of Friday’s return meeting with La Bicolor: “I’m confident we can get a win at the Azteca. Looking at the quality we’ve got you’d expect us to win, but we’ve got to go and do it on the pitch.”
Boosting the belief of the defender, who has been capped 47 times by his country, is their performance in beating a Côte d’Ivoire side featuring Didier Drogba and Gervinho 4-1 in their last friendly outing. “I think we rediscovered our form a bit in that game,” he said. “We found our punch and some of the spirit we’d been lacking. It was an important win, even if it was only a friendly.”
United they stand
Moreno knows what it means to succeed in the green of Mexico. A member of the team that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005, he has also been involved in two CONCACAF Gold Cup wins. Many of his current team-mates shared in those triumphs, while a handful of others also picked up gold medals at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.
As he explained, those victories infused Moreno and his colleagues with a belief that exists to this day: “The guys in the dressing room have known each other for a long time. The mood is good, which is something the new guys can pick up on too. There have been rumours about problems in the camp but there’s no truth in them at all.”
A veteran of South Africa 2010, Moreno says Mexico have their sights firmly set on a place at Brazil 2014: “We know exactly what’s at stake and we have to make the most of this wonderful opportunity to go to the world finals.”
Team spirit will be crucial in the battles ahead, as will the support of the fans, who have been unhappy and not a little concerned at the team’s form in the qualifiers and their showing at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013, when Mexico went out in the group phase after defeats to Brazil and Italy.
“We know we have to make it up to the fans, but we’re going to be putting 100 per cent in to try and make them happy,” said Moreno, making his plea for the supporters to get behind the team. “I really hope they’re with us because we need them.”
While the task against Honduras at the Azteca is a stiff one, Mexico face an even more daunting mission against arch rivals USA in Columbus, Ohio, four days later.
“They took a point from us at home, they’re on a good run and they’ve got players who are doing pretty well in Europe right now,” commented the Tri centre-half. “It’s a derby that goes beyond football. We couldn’t be more motivated because we know that winning these two games would be a huge step towards Brazil for us. My idea, and the same goes for everyone else, is to come away from these two matches with six points and a big smile.”