Four years ago CONCACAF sent four teams to the World Cup: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras.
Somewhat remarkably three of those four teams made it to the knockout rounds: USA and Mexico both advanced as far as the Round of 16. Mexico would eventually loose, on a controversial penalty, to the Netherlands. The US eventually fell to Belgium in extra time, while Costa Rica defeated Greece on penalties in the Round of 16 before falling to the Netherlands on penalties in the quarterfinals.
This time around CONCACAF is only sending three teams to the World Cup: Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama. Honduras finished fourth in the Hex but lost the home and home playoff with Australia. It’s safe to say that four years ago the CONCACAF teams surpassed expectations by a wide margin.
Will that be the case this time around?
Mexico comes into this World Cup with one
clear objective: play a fifth game.
They’ve been knocked out of the World Cup in the Round of 16 six consecutive times: in 1994 by Bulgaria, in 1998 by Germany, in 2002 by the USA, in 2006 by Argentina, in 2010 by Argentina and in 2014 by the Netherlands. Theoretically it doesn’t get any easier this time for them. Their group consists of Germany, Sweden, and South Korea.
Obviously the Germans are the reigning champions. They always make a deep run at the World Cup, having gone to the semifinals of every World Cup since 2002. Last summer, they breezed past Mexico at the Confederations Cup by a score of 4-1. Sweden figures to be a tough out as they finished 2nd in the World Cup Qualifying group behind France and then beat Italy in the home and home playoff. South Korea figures to be the least difficult of Mexico’s opponents but they have proven before that they can pull some surprises on the sport’s biggest stage.
Many experts are picking Mexico to finish second in the group and that’s not at all unreasonable. But that does put a bit of a damper on the expectation of advancing past the Round of 16. This would mean that they would more than likely play Brazil in their first knockout game. And right now, Brazil is on fire. After topping the table in South American qualifying, their recent form continues to shine.
But there is reason for hope that this time might be different. Mexico has perhaps their most talented team ever with the likes of Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez, Hector Herrera and the old warrior Rafa Marquez.