Watching Mexico at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, with their high-octane pressing game and their enterprising full-backs foraging down the flanks, it was hard to believe that they were the last of the 32 qualifiers to reach the finals.
Miguel Herrera’s arrival in the Tri dugout in October 2013 was the moment when the Mexicans put their shaky form in the qualifiers behind them and set themselves on course for Brazil 2014.
Their impressive finals campaign came to a painful end with a last-minute defeat to the Netherlands in the last 16, and though memories of their unlucky exit are still all too fresh for the Mexicans, coach Herrera looked back on it all in a conference held in Panama earlier this month, the first of four such events analysing Brazil 2014.
“I think it’s great to have events like this,” he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “It’s great to have the chance to reflect on what was a fantastic World Cup. “Everything about it was superb. The organisation was first class and the games were really entertaining. I’d expected the players to struggle in the heat of Brazil but as it turned out, matches were played at a pretty high intensity the whole time and were very open.”
Finding a spare moment at the event, where FIFA’s Technical Study Group went through their technical report and discussed goal-line technology, refereeing and medical issues, the man they call El Piojo (The Louse) sat down with FIFA.com to talk about Brazil 2014, Mexico’s future and a number of other topics.
FIFA.com: It’s been two months now since Mexico were knocked out at Brazil 2014. What conclusions have you drawn from it all?
Miguel Herrera: The boys did a pretty good job. They played at a good pace, controlled their games and had possession of the ball most of the time. Though we were agreed that we didn’t have that much time together, what we achieved was generally pretty positive.
*The position that generated most debate among the fans in the lead-up to the competition was the goalkeeper. You obviously had a lot of faith in Guillermo *Memo Ochoa, even though he was without a club. Did you expect him to do so well? *
The fact is, I had a lot of confidence in all three keepers I took with me. We knew that each of them would do a good job if asked to, and I think *Memo took the responsibility that came with the job. He excelled himself against Brazil because he’d prepared himself to do just that.
You’ve always been known as someone who celebrates goals with a passion, as the whole world was able to see in Brazil. Which of Mexico’s goals there made you happiest and why?
We were especially delighted with the second goal against Croatia because it really put us on course for the second round and it came against a team who played pretty well. They were very strong rivals.
Can you describe how you feel when you celebrate a goal?
I feel like a fan celebrating when his team scores. It’s getting harder and harder to score in the modern game, and when your team does find the back of the net, then you have to celebrate it in the most natural way how. I always describe it as an electrical thing that goes through my whole body. All I’m thinking about in my head is celebrating.
I feel like a fan celebrating when his team scores.
And what goes through your mind when you see your celebrations on TV?
I say to myself: ‘What’s going on there? The crazy things we do’ (laughs). Watching the boys’ performances again makes me feel happy too.
So have you watched the Netherlands match again? Did Mexico make a mistake in sitting back?
We’ve watched it several times. We didn’t sit back. We just didn’t have the ball anymore. And they weren’t exactly all over us either. They didn’t keep possession. They just hit long balls and pushed us back into our area, though I do think we stopped doing the important things in the last few minutes, like keeping possession of the ball. They were out for the count and we handed the initiative back to them.
How much does the mental side of things come into those situations? Do you think Mexico’s recent and well-known inability to reach the quarter-finals affected the players?
I don’t think so. We wanted to go all the way to the Final. I think what happened in those last few minutes was all down to us switching off. We switched off with our marking for the equaliser. I’m not talking about the guy who headed the ball down but the guy who got on the end of the loose ball. We let him go free. As for the mental side of things, the team was prepared. We were the better side for 75 minutes. We took the ball from them and pinned them back in their half. They were more concerned with defending than attacking. Nobody else managed that against them.
*Spain have got *tiki-taka, Brazil have got jogo bonito and Germany have got their power game. Has the time come for Mexico to have their own style too? **
Yes. I want to have a dynamic team that is comfortable on the ball but is also physically strong when it comes to the transition and reaching the opposition goal. I think we can find a way of playing and a style of our own.
You had only six months to set the team up for Brazil 2014. How will you go about preparing for Russia 2018, which is a whole four years away?
I’ll just be working more and I’ll have more time to get the players familiar with the system and the gameplan. We’ll be more prepared and better developed. We won’t be making last-minute decisions like who the first-choice keeper is going be or the starting eleven. We’ll have the core of the team decided on.
*One last question. Carlos Salcido has announced his retirement from the national team and Rafael Marquez is also on the verge of retiring. How are you going to deal with the generational handover? *
We’ve got a very good young breed. No team in the region has done better than Mexico with their youth teams. We’ve won two U-17 World Cups, finished runners-up in another, come third in an U-20 World Cup and won gold at London 2012, all since 2005. It’s a talented generation that will win an awful lot of international caps between them. They’ll be more than ready for the challenges ahead.