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.

Lukaku coy on Everton future, says “decision has already been made”

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Romelu Lukaku has made it no secret that he hopes to play Champions League football, and reality may be setting in that the opportunity to do so won’t come at Everton.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break during Ireland match ]

While the Belgium international hasn’t dealt his hand in regards to his future at Goodison Park, it seems as though the Toffees could be losing out on keeping their star striker.

[ MORE: UEFA qualifying roundup — Wales in trouble, Buffon hits 1000 ]

Last month, agent Mino Raiola claimed that Lukaku’s deal with the English side was 99.9 percent complete, however, the 23-year-old has still yet to ink a new contract.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s UEFA World Cup qualifier against Greece, Lukaku says that his future plans are already made up.

“The decision has already been made so I can’t talk about that,” Lukaku said of his future at Everton.

The former Anderlecht standout has had nothing but success since joining Everton, first on loan and then making a permanent transfer from Chelsea in 2014. Over the combined stints, Lukaku has bagged 83 goals in all competitions for the Toffees, but the young attacker says there’s nothing wrong with having “ambition.”

“There is nothing wrong with ambition. You have to embrace it and where you are as a footballer,” Lukaku said. “I’ve made a long way until now but the road is still long and I know I have to improve and get better. I want to help Everton as much as I can, as well as the national team. I think a lot of stuff can be achieved.

“Sometimes people will mistake things that I say but it’s just ambition that I have; I want to win titles and trophies and I don’t think people should take that as arrogance — people should embrace it.

“This is what footballers need to achieve if they want to become the best, and I think young kids need to learn that too.”

Making sense out of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras

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In the lead up to Friday night’s clash at Avaya Stadium, the U.S. Men’s National Team was faced with a must-win scenario. What came next though was a bit more shocking than most U.S. Soccer supporters could have possibly imagined.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

An emphatic 6-0 scoreline was how it finished in San Jose, California as the USMNT took down Honduras to lift itself out of the cellar of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but it’s how Bruce Arena’s side picked up the result that was so impressive.

After an extended layoff that began in the final months of the 2016 Major League Soccer season, Clint Dempsey has returned to both club and country with a vengeance following Friday’s performance. The artist formerly known as “Deuce” recorded a hat-trick in a span of 22 minutes to solidify an already convincing American lead, leaving Dempsey just two goals shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time USMNT scoring record (57).

Dempsey wasn’t the only bright spot though, as Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore and most notably, Christian Pulisic, turned in stellar performances that really left Honduras with no chance to find its rhythm in the match.

The 18-year-old Pulisic continues to be the talk of the town when it comes to the USMNT, and rightfully so given his club situation. There’s never been a U.S. talent succeeding at a club as big as Borussia Dortmund at such a young age, and Pulisic’s effort against Los Catrachos proved further that the young attacker could be the playmaker the Yanks have been looking for since Donovan’s retirement.

Meanwhile, another player that turned in a great performance was Jozy Altidore, and probably not for the reasons you’d normally think. The Toronto FC striker didn’t get on the scoresheet, however, it was Altidore’s hold-up play and vision that helped the U.S. dominate Honduras.

Altidore has long been a staple of the American attack, and an important one at that with his 37 international goals, which ranks third all-time for the U.S.. If the 27-year-old is able to replicate more performances like Friday night though, that makes the Stars and Stripes significantly more dangerous because of Altidore’s duel-threat ability.

The lone area the U.S. will look to clean up heading into Tuesday’s important qualifying match against Panama will be some of the team’s defensive letdowns. Jorge Villafana turned in a strong performance in his WCQ debut at left back, while veteran Omar Gonzalez had several moments of weakness in the heart of the American backline.

The Pachuca defender was caught out of position on several occasions and gave the ball away at times as well, but fortunately for the U.S., Honduras was unable to capitalize on those errors.

Overall though, the U.S. did exactly what it needed… and then some. The three points was all Arena’s group could have hoped for from the start after lackluster performances against Mexico and Costa Rica back in November, but adding six goals could certainly help down the road as well if goal differential becomes a key factor in the Hexagonal.

It’s difficult to say the U.S. is back because that’s a relative phrase that can be interpreted in numerous ways. The USMNT put in a stellar performance, albeit without key players like Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin defensively, while Bobby Wood and Jermaine Jones are two others that didn’t feature.

[ MORE: Three takeaways from USMNT’s emphatic win on Friday night ]

Only time will tell when it comes to how this team gels over an extended period of time, but it was certainly a dream start for the Americans as Arena Part Deux continues.

Up next, Panama.

Chastain, MacMillan inducted into US Soccer Hall of Fame

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Brandi Chastain looked at the assembled crowd in a tent under the rain and addressed former coach Tony DiCicco, who had just introduced her at the induction ceremony for the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame.

[ MORE: USMNT smashes six past Honduras in CONCACAF WCQ ]

“Thank you, not just for today but for every day that you gave me the chance to play for the women’s national team, and for having the confidence in me and the guts to tell me I wasn’t going to be a forward,” she said.

Chastain, a forward on the 1991 World Cup champions and a left back whose penalty kick won a shootout for the 1999 title, was inducted Friday night along with midfielder Shannon MacMillan, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion three years later.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

The ceremony was held before the U.S. men played Honduras in a World Cup qualifier.

Remembered most for pulling off her shirt after her World Cup-winning goal and celebrating in a sports bra, Chastain grew up in San Jose and talked about her early days playing youth soccer in the area, starting with the Quakettes. After winning her first World Cup title, she was left off the 1995 roster. She revived her career as a defender.

“Change is good. Though, scary, it’s good. And I think we would all benefit from seeing change as an opportunity for growth and development, and for a new adventure,” she said.

Now 38, Chastain scored 30 goals in 192 international appearances and also won a pair of Olympic gold medals. MacMillan, 42, had 60 in 176 international games.

“It was always such a massive honor that gave me chills every time I walked in that locker room, whether it was my first cap, my 100th cap or my last cap,” MacMillan said. “It was something that I never took for granted.”

Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy was given the Colin Jose Media Award.

The Hall’s building in Oneonta, New York, closed in 2010 and a new Hall is being built in Frisco, Texas.

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.