No looking back for Hector Herrera

  • The final round of qualifying for Concacaf’s eight best teams begins

  • Hector Herrera reflects on the last few months’ results for Mexico

  • "There’s nothing worse than dwelling on the past"

As Mexico kick off the final, “octagonal” round of their qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ exactly one month and one day after losing the Concacaf Gold Cup 2021 final to USA, the memories are still raw. The recollections will be just as painful for El Tri if they cast their minds back a little further still to 6 June, when they were also defeated by the Stars and Stripes, this time in the final of the Concacaf Nations League.

Yet for Hector Herrera, one of the main figureheads of the current Mexico side, all of this is already old news. "Losing hurts, and in this case it really did, because we lost two finals to one of our biggest rivals. But that’s how it goes in football; you just have to start writing the next chapter," he said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.

"There’s nothing worse than dwelling on the past," the 31-year-old continued. "I don’t see our upcoming matches as an opportunity for revenge. The situation has completely changed; now it’s all about booking a ticket to the World Cup. We need to process everything and look at what we didn’t do well to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes and that we develop as a team. At the end of the day, we still have the whole of World Cup qualification ahead of us."

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 01: General view of Azteca Stadium during the Mexico National Team training session on September 01, 2021 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

Despite his team’s recent bitter defeats, the central midfielder believes Mexico can take several positives from their experiences as they prepare to enter what is a crucial stage in any footballer’s career.

"When all is said and done, there are also some encouraging things to report. The team are working increasingly well together, and we know exactly what our game plan and targets are. Although qualifying is a completely different prospect, I think Mexico are better prepared mentally, because we already know the challenge that awaits us. We know it won’t be easy, just like at the Gold Cup, but we’ll be better prepared and play with more focus."

A new experience

The challenge Herrera speaks of is unprecedented, with Mexico playing three matches, against Jamaica, Costa Rica and Panama, in a single international window rather than the usual two. "At times like this, we need to use the potential of the entire squad. Teams with more high-quality players at their disposal will be able to manage this situation better," he explained.

"Anyone who essentially has two teams capable of going toe-to-toe with their opponents will benefit from the fact that there are so many matches in a short space of time," Herrera said. "Mexico have good players for that. Another crucial factor is being able to recover fully and being aware of what is at stake."

There is no doubt that El Tri will need to make a strong start to this condensed qualifying campaign. If they can keep their composure, play effective football and deliver a series of convincing performances, their ticket to Qatar could be assured in just a few months.

"These three opponents are some of the strongest sides in this qualifying competition," Herrera said. "If we can get good results against them, it’ll get us a little closer to our goal. Making a good start will be vital, not least because we’ll be playing at home first and need to make the most of the advantage that gives us. The two away games that follow are important and will be tough. We’ll need to use all of our players’ experience and class for those."

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 01: Players of Jamaica warm up during the Jamaica National Team training session at Azteca Stadium on September 01, 2021 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

There is no doubt that support from their fans throughout the qualifying campaign will play a major role in helping Herrera and his team-mates to reach their goal. Mexico can count themselves lucky to have one of the biggest fan bases in the world.

"There are some situations and moments in games that you can do nothing about, and it hurts to be criticised for those afterwards," the Atletico Madrid midfielder explained. "But you have to be ready for anything; after all, everyone heaps praise on you when things go well. It’s important for the fans to stick with us when things don’t go so well as this makes us stronger. The tradition and capacity of the stadium we play in also gives us a boost when we’re at home."

Although a minor injury means the man they call "Zorro" will not be involved in the upcoming games, his enthusiasm and commitment show no sign of wavering. "I’ve been fortunate enough to play at two World Cups already, but you always hope to be able to go to the next one. I’m doing all I can to get back to 100 per cent and will fight for a place in the team so that I can play my part to help us book our ticket to Qatar."

July 4, 2021, Los Angeles, California, USA: Hector Herrera 16 of the national team, Nationalteam of Mexico celebrates with fans after scoring a second goal during their MexTour game with the National Team of Nigeria on Saturday, July 3, 2021 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. Mexico defeats Nigeria, 4-0. /PI Los Angeles USA - ZUMAp124 20210704_zaa_p124_038 Copyright: xARIANAxRUIZx