Mexico’s national soccer team players pose prior to a 2014 World Cup qualifying match against Panama in Panama City, Panama, Friday, June 7, 2013. From left to right back are Jesus Corona, Francisco Pinedo, Jesus Zavala and Hector Moreno and front, Andres Guardado, Gerardo Torrado, Carlos Salcido, Severo Meza, Javier Aquino, Giovani Dos Santos and Javier Hernandez.
AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan, File

Mexico sort of backed into the 2014 World Cup by having to go through New Zealand to win the fourth spot in CONCACAF. The Tricolor struggled throughout the qualifying rounds last year to get to the play-off against New Zealand only after Panama virtually gave away an easy home victory to the U.S. Panama was on its way to the big dance with 15 minutes to play when it folded under U.S. pressure.

Mexico’s struggles are history now and were it not for its Group A foes Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon, the Tricolor might have had a good chance to improve its past Round-of-Sixteen exits.

As the most experienced World Cup team in CONCACAF, Mexico will be making its 15 appearance in the tournament and its eight straight. The Tricolor has been eliminated in the last five World Cups at that Round-of-Sixteen stage; all told, in 29 World Cup games, the Tricolor won seven, lost 17 and drew five (7-17-5). Considering Mexico’s poor qualifying run – four wins in 12 games, including the play-off versus New Zealand, with leading scorer Oribe Peralta registering 10 goals – this team will have to drastically improve its play in Brazil.

Mexico kicks off the tournament against African giants Cameroon (June 13, Natal), a team with a strong World Cup pedigree. The Tricolor has history on its side with a victory against the Africans, 1-0, in the teams’ only meeting, Sept. 22, 1993 in Los Angeles. Mexico, though, has never beaten an African team in World Cup play in three games; it drew twice and lost once against teams from Africa.

Mexico’s second encounter is against Brazil (June 17, Fortaleza), a team it has played 38 times between June 24, 1950 and June 19, 2013, with relatively little success; it won only 10 of those, while losing 22 and drawing six, which includes three losses in three World Cup games. The Tricolor’s last defeat to Brazil came last June in the FIFA Confederations Cup, 2-0, in Fortaleza, where it will face Brazil this summer.

Croatia (June 23, Recife) poses yet another threat to Mexico’s advancing to the second round. Against the big, physical Croats, Mexico won only once and lost twice in three matches since October 1992. Mexico did beat Croatia in the teams’ only World Cup clash, in 2002.

Mexico has a hard road to travel to make it out of Group A. Cameroon is a fast, physical and very technical team, and on a good day, could topple any squad; Brazil at home will be too much for the Tricolor; and Croatia, although always a difficult team to beat because of its physical and fast play, presents an outside chance for a victory since Brazil’s hot climate is not the ideal condition for Europeans teams.

Conversely, Mexico is trying to get out of the doldrums and will have to do much to lift its game. Hopefully, with the realization of successfully converting an outside chance into an opportunity to play in the 2014 tournament, the Tricolor will use the chance to redeem itself and show that it is a world class squad.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup starts on June 12 in Brazil. The 32 teams were placed in eight groups of four for their preliminary games, from which the two best from each of the groups will move to the second round, which is the start of the single defeat exit

CONCACAF first-place finisher USA will compete in Group G, which seems to be this tournament’s group of death as it will tangle with Ghana, Portugal and Germany. Second-place finisher Costa Rica will play in Group D against Uruguay, England and Italy. Honduras, which finished third in the region to get the last automatic berth, is in Group E to tangle with Switzerland, Ecuador and France.

Mexico’s Oribe Peralta, front, and Costa Rica’s Michael Umana vie for the ball during a 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match in San Jose, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.
AP Photo/Fernando Vergara

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