Confidence in qualification may be misplaced
13 November ~ Both Uruguay and Mexico had been widely expected to qualify for the World Cup, but they have had to rely on intercontinental play-offs to secure a place at Brazil 2014. Losing to Jordan and New Zealand respectively in the two-legged matches that start today would be a national catastrophe for both. The Uruguayans are no strangers to play-offs, having been involved in them for the last three World Cup qualifications. They beat Australia in 2001, then lost to the same opponents on penalties four years later.
Their impressive performance in South Africa 2010 – when they reached the semi-finals – took place only after a close win against Costa Rica eight months before the World Cup finals. Despite that fourth place and Copa América victory in 2011, Oscar Tabarez's team struggled in their most recent qualifying campaign, just clinching fifth place – behind Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador – in their final match. A fixture against Australia, Japan or Korea might have worried the Uruguayan media but their Jordanian opponents are given little chance.
"Uruguay should win both games. Not beating this team would be a disaster, they don't have a single player at the level of ours," said Alberto Kesman, one of the most prestigious football journalists in Uruguay. Another commentator, Sergio Gorzy believes that "there's a good chance of finishing it [in Amman]". He continues, "our players deserve to arrive to Montevideo and enjoy a party with a full stadium [in the home game], knowing that the qualification is more or less achieved".
Mexico's qualification process started in the second phase of the Concacaf tournament, where they were drawn alongside Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guyana. They overran their opponents, winning all six matches, scoring 15 goals and conceding only two to reach the next stage. Three of the six teams in the final round were to qualify automatically and everyone expected that El Tri would be among them.
Draws in the first three games suggested differently, however, and a 2-1 home to Honduras made it clear that their presence in Brazil wasn't a sure thing. Thanks mainly to a spectacular late winner against main rivals Panama, Mexico finished fourth behind the USA, Costa Rica and Honduras, taking them to a play-off against Oceania winners New Zealand.
The "All Whites' were the only team not to lose a match at the 2010 World Cup finals, for which they qualified after beating Bahrain in the play-offs, but this hasn't prevented Miguel Herrera – Mexico's fourth coach this year – of being "sure" of his team's success. "We're not going for a 1-0 victory, we're planning on building a bigger score", he said in yesterday's press conference. With Mexico getting just three points in their last four games, Herrera's confidence could still be misplaced. Antonio Mateo