2014 World Cup team preview: Mexico

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Getting to know…Mexico: The Mexicans come into this World Cup having learned a valuable lesson during qualifying: no World Cup place is guaranteed. El Tri needed a pair of American goals against Panama in stoppage time of the final week of CONCACAF qualifying plus a playoff win over New Zealand to secure their place in Brazil, and now they will be hoping to make the most of their second chance.  On their fourth manager of the last 10 months, Mexico has their work cut out for them to make their sixth World Cup in a row a memorable one.

Record in qualifying: Mexico qualified by the hair of their chinny chin chin, in fourth place in the CONCACAF table.  They were dead in the water, in fifth below Panama before the US got two goals in injury time to secure a 3-2 win, giving Mexico new life.  They then went and trounced New Zealand in the playoff with the AFC qualifier, meaning El Tri would be going to Brazil.

What group are they in? Miguel Herrera and company will need to navigate a difficult and star-studded Group A that features players from the top club teams in the world.  Hosts Brazil are heavy favorites to win the entire tournament, while Croatia features plenty of top-level experience and Cameroon boasts an insanely experienced squad headed by Samuel Eto’o.  It will take all Mexico has to make it out of the group stage, and then some.

Game Schedule: Group A.

13 June, 12:00 ET, Natal – Mexico vs. Cameroon
17 June, 15:00 ET, Fortaleza – Brazil vs. Mexico
23 June, 16:00 ET, Recife – Croatia vs. Mexcio

Star Player: Javier Hernandez

Mexico often go as Chicharito does, and when he struggled for consistency during CONCACAF qualification, so did Mexico’s attack.  El Tri scored five goals over their last seven qualifying matches, with none of them scored by Hernandez, and the team won a total of two of those seven matches, losing three of their last four. With his club situation also in turmoil, this tournament is a big moment for Chicharito in his career, and could be a chance to prove not only that his country’s struggles are short-lived, but also that he has a lot to offer anyone that would want to sign him. However, with the Manchester United striker the country’s biggest name outside its borders, he may not even start, with Oribe Peralta making a name for himself in qualifying.  With El Tri in a period of confusion, it will be interesting to see how Miguel Herrera handles one of his country’s most coveted players.

source: Getty Images
Miguel Herrera has taken charge with a presence of authority not felt by the 3 prior managers the past 10 months.

Manager: Miguel Herrera

Herrera is in the uneasy position of securing a job that has seen three others come and go in the last 10 months. As far as job security goes, that’s about as bad as it gets.  But Herrera passed his first test, dispatching of New Zealand in the qualification playoff with ease, and now the Club America manager sets his eyes on a much bigger prize.  Thankfully for Herrera, he’s been in this position before.  He gave himself a six-month ultimatum when taking the job at Club America, and it paid off as they made the 2012 Clausura semifinals before winning it the following year.  Not known for coddling established players, Herrera does what he believes is right and runs with it, so expect him to pull out all the stops as Mexico looks to bust through a difficult Group A.

Secret weapon: Physicality

With the team not scoring many goals over its qualifying run, they instead relied on a solid defense and a heavy-hitting midfield to pin back opposing attacks.  It worked, and Herrera bringing back 35-year-old defender Rafa Marquez appeared to be a very smart play.  However, this style of play can occasionally lead to some pretty ugly mistakes that top teams in the World Cup won’t hesitate to take advantage of.  Herrera will hope his side can continue its ability to chop down attacks before they start without opening up gaping holes in the process.

Prediction: Much like the United States, if Mexico fails to secure all three points from its African opponents in the first match, it’s all but over for them.  If they can get by Cameroon unscathed, their match with Brazil can be considered a throwaway if they wish to pin all their hopes on a matchup with Croatia.  For a squad that has been eliminated in the Round of 16 each of the past two World Cups, even if they make it out of Group A, a draw with Spain or the Netherlands appears likely. Good luck. It’s hard to see them even getting that far.

Mourinho: Tactics involved targeting young Benfica backstop

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho knew that promising Benfica backstop Mile Svilar would be facing some big nerves.

The 18-year-old was making his UEFA Champions League debut, and Mourinho instructed his Red Devils to challenge the backstop at every turn.

[ RECAP: Benfica 0-1 Man Utd ]

That paid off when Svilar carried Marcus Rashford‘s free kick into the goal, the lone marker of a 1-0 loss that keeps United atop Group A and Benfica three points behind second- and third place.

“I knew how good the goalkeeper was, I told the players that. We had a little bit of a strategy, especially on set-pieces to make him uncomfortable. We put men around him on corners so he cannot come out. He risks a lot, but only top keepers do that. He was unlucky for the goal,” Mourinho said.

Svilar looked dejected after the game, apologizing to fans at the Estadio da Luz and getting consolation from a fellow Belgian in Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.

Nemanja Matic laid out United’s strategy a bit more, from the BBC:

“The manager said to us to try and shoot and get some crosses towards their goalkeeper because he is young and playing in his first game. This is football and I know he is a great goalkeeper and I wish him well for the future.

“We had control, some difficulties in the first 30 minuets but then we controlled the pitch. We used our experience. We could not find the second goal but did not make any mistakes at the back.”

Rashford limped out of the game, and Mourinho says he initially thought it was cramps. Instead, it’s a problem with his left knee. Simon Peach of the Press Association quotes Mourinho as hoping the injury is not bad.

United completed more than 500 passes, doubling Benfica’s production. Some have been critical of Mourinho’s penchant to play it safe, and he winked at them after the match in calling his tactics “a crime.”

“We were in control, David De Gea did not have one save to make. I never felt we could concede a goal and were solid defensively. Sometime I feel being good defensively is a crime, but that is a way of getting results.”

Chelsea 3-3 Roma – Thrills at the Bridge

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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  • Luiz, Hazard put Chelsea up 2-0
  • Kolarov, Dzeko brace flip lead
  • Hazard nabs equalizer
  • U.S. U-20 mid Scott on bench for Chelsea

Eden Hazard scored twice as Chelsea overcame the sacrifice of a 2-0 lead and the Blues drew AS Roma 3-3 at Stamford Bridge in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday.

David Luiz also scored for Chelsea. Ex-Man City men Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov starred for Roma, with Dzeko scoring twice and Kolarov adding a goal and an assist.

Chelsea has seven points to lead Group C, two more than Roma and five ahead of third-placed Atletico Madrid. The sides will meet again in Rome on Halloween.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Luiz started the scoring with a delightful strike. Call it a second bite at the proverbial apple if you must, but then admit he sunk his teeth into it.

Eden Hazard made a darting run to double Chelsea’s lead, but Kolarov pulled Roma within one with a deflected strike past Thibaut Courtois.

Diego Perotti curled a shot that hardly troubled Courtois in the 63rd minute, the Chelsea keeper just leaving his feet collect it.

Dzeko and Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Then the former Man City striker struck again, seeing a long diagonal ball over his shoulder and whizzing a perfect left-footed volley through the flailing arms of Courtois.

Dzeko then made a late move before a Kolarov free kick to lose his mark and nod home a go-ahead goal.

It wasn’t over, as Hazard found his way to space and a cross from Pedro.

The Belgian headed his chance beyond a diving Alisson, and it was 3-3 with 15 minutes to play.

American-English midfielder Kyle Scott did not make his Chelsea bow. The 19-year-old has represented England at the U-16 level and the U.S. at the U-18 and U-20 levels.

Benfica 0-1 Manchester United: Match-winner Rashford injured

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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  • No shots on goal for Benfica
  • United puts four on frame
  • Man Utd out-passes Benfica 522-237.

Marcus Rashford scored the lone goal of the match, then limped off injured in Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Benfica in UEFA Champions League action at the Estadio da Luz on Wednesday.

United is close to wrapping up a knockout round berth with the win, leading Basel by three points, CSKA Moscow by six, and Benfica by nine.

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho got his managerial start at Benfica when he replaced now-Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes in 2000.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Rashford’s free kick from the left fooled young Benfica backstop Mile Svilar.

The 18-year-old was making his UEFA Champions League debut, and was caught out of goal.

While retreating toward his end line, his two-handed catch carried him and the ball into the goal despite the efforts of his outstretched paws.

Report: Landon Donovan mulling U.S. Soccer presidential run

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Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl has been all over the turmoil at United States Soccer since the men’s national team’s embarrassing World Cup qualifying ouster last week.

The latest is that many interested observers are encouraging American legend Landon Donovan to run against Sunil Gulati in February’s presidential election.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Donovan retired from playing for a second time in 2016. He’s invested in Premier League club Swansea City and tried his hand at broadcasting as well.

According to Wahl, Donovan issued no comment when asked whether he is seriously considering a run for president. Gulati didn’t confirm that he’d run for a fourth term — the maximum tenure — during his post-World Cup failure conference call, but strongly lauded his credentials for another stint.

Wahl had previously reported that lawyer Steve Gans has the required letters of nomination to run against Gulati.

While Gans would challenge Gulati and perhaps make for interesting debate and a bellwether of the appetite for change amongst the constituency, Donovan’s name would likely be enough to swing some voters regardless.

Without making any judgments about the job Donovan would do, think of it as a big entertainment name like Dwayne Johnson amongst Democrats or Donald Trump amongst Republicans who might upturn eyebrows amongst folks thinking, “Maybe we need something different.” The name value isn’t the same but perhaps it’s less polarizing to compare the runs of Jesse Ventura and Al Franken, or Jack Kemp and Steve Largent instead.

A Donovan run would likely keep U.S Soccer’s cozy relationship with Major League Soccer while perhaps emboldening those who seek big changes within the youth structure (Donovan was part of the U.S. residency program which was recently canceled in a sort of “We did it” nod to academies). His experience is varied and his network exceptional.

Donovan for President? Maybe!