New Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich is insisting he feels no fear as he prepares to lead his side into an almost must-win World Cup qualifier with Panama at the Estadio Azteca. Vucetich has been brought in on a late rescue mission after Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre led El Tri to the brink of a quite astonishing failure to make it to the World Cup for the first time since they were excluded from the tournament by FIFA in 1990.
After Chepo’s repeated failures to ignite Mexico’s Hexagonal campaign, Luis Fernando Tena failed to show enough in leading the side to a 2-0 defeat in the Unites States last month to make his tenure extend beyond a solitary game. Having wasted so many chances to get their qualifying back on track, Mexico sits level with Panama on eight points, but behind their next opponents on goals scored in the race for a spot in a playoff against New Zealand. El Tri needs a win on Friday to ensure it goes into its final qualifier in Costa Rica with its fate in its own hands. Vucetich, though, was putting across a positive mindset in the lead up to the match.
"Only Judas was fearful," he joked, referring to a Biblical pun. "Personally, I'm very happy, wanting the game to come quickly. There is no fear,” he added, according to Goal.com.
Mexico have scored just once at home so far in the Hexagonal and Vucetich is eager for his side to take the initiative from the off against Panama.
This [match] is about winning, not seeing what happens, our intention is to go out to win,” he explained. “We have to be aggressive, without being crazy. Soccer is played with balance.”
Vucetich left previous captain Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez out of his squad and instead recalled 34-year-old Rafael Marquez. Andres Guardado has also been excluded. However, Carlos Vela rejected the new coach’s overtures to try and get the forward back into the squad after his exile under De la Torre. The Real Sociedad man claimed not to be fully fit.
For Panama the match is equally pivotal. The country has never before made it to the World Cup and Roberto Chen, a pivotal part of the side that reached the final of the Gold Cup this summer, spoke of what it would mean to help his country get to the sport’s biggest event.
“Ever since I was a boy I’ve dreamed about seeing Panama at the World Cup, and here I am now forming part of the side that might just do it,” he told FIFA.com. “It’s just amazing. It might look easy from the outside, but I can tell you just how hard it is. I can’t imagine how crazy things would be in Panama if we actually made it. It would be historic.”
D: Layun, Marquez, Magallon, Salcido
M: Zavala, Pena
Giminez, Dos Santos
F: Peralta, Hernandez
D: Cummings, Chen, Baloy, L. Henriquez
M: Sanchez, Gomez, A. Henriquez, Quintero
F: Perez, Torres
Prediction: There can be little doubt that getting rid of De la Torre was the right thing to do; the only question is whether it came too late to avoid the unimaginable. It is hard to conceive of Mexico being any worse under Vucetich, and there is reason to believe that a change of atmosphere will loosen the tactical and mental shackles that Mexico’s players have appeared to be under throughout 2013.
Panama will be far from easy opponents for Mexico to overcome, yet Julio Dely Valdes’s side have proved a far tougher prospect at home than on the road, where they have only claimed two points in four matches and conceded seven goals. There is sure to be some nerves, but Mexico should finally meet expectations and get a win they so crave.
Mexico 2-0 Panama
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.