Mexico’s a whole different ball game

2010-06-09 00:00

ABSORB pressure, close the spaces, play it tight, and wait patiently for the right opportunity to strike.

That would appear to be Bafana Bafana’s chosen, and most sensible, strategy when they open the World Cup against dangerous, 17th-ranked Mexico at Soccer City on Friday.

Whatever Bafana have achieved in their 12-match unbeaten run, and impressive string of warm-up matches since their return from training camps in Brazil and Germany, will fly out the window when the referee blows his whistle at 4 pm on Friday to signal the start of the 19th Soccer World Cup at the monstrous Soccer City.

Not only are the Mexicans better than anyone Bafana have faced in the last six months, but a World Cup opening game as host nation is also miles removed from an international friendly, and also from anything the South Africans have ever experienced in their careers before.

Mexico have played in 13 World Cup finals tournaments (Bafana have reached two) and in the last four have reached the second round, frustratingly not managing to progress further. South Africa have yet to progress past the first round.

The Mexicans’ best finish at a World Cup was as quarter-finalists on home soil in 1970 and 1986, so they have plenty of pedigree.

Their current side is a mixture of youth and pedigree, with many players, such as captain and Barcelona central defender Rafael Marquez, who have years’ experience at leading European clubs.

Their forward line, in contrast, is young, dynamic and has the ability to cut apart a top-class defence, as they did in last week’s 2-1 warm-up victory against world champions Italy.

A potential match-winner being touted as potentially the country’s next Hugo Sanchez, the ex-Real Madrid striker and arguably the country’s best export, is Javier Hernandez, the 21-year-old striker from Guadalajara.

Next to him, two other 21-year-olds in an often attacking 4-3-3 formation are the mobile Giovani dos Santos of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal’s Carlos Vela.

Two veterans, Gerardo Torrado and 35-year-old playmaker Cuauhtemoc Blanco, boss Mexico’s midfield.

Deportivo la Coruna left wing Andres Guardado (23) has the skills to unlock defences.

Blanco was brought out of retirement by coach Javier Aguirre and was instrumental in the central Americans rescuing a qualifying campaign that had been going horribly wrong under Sven-Göran Eriksson.

Mexico’s warm-up matches have shown them to be a highly technical team who are comfortable on the ball from the back to the strikers, vary it up in attack and play high-risk, attractive football.

The side were unlucky to lose in a 3-1 away defeat against England and a 2-1 loss in the Netherlands. But the manner in which El Tri’s defence opened up and provided space to concede goals showed that if Bafana are patient, exert enough controlled pressure and await their opportunity, they will probably get it.

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