El Tri: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Any Mexico fan that says they wouldn't have snapped your hand off if offered four points from El Tri's first two games of Brazil 2014 ahead of the tournament is either lying or living on another planet.
This has been a positive start for Mexico to the World Cup. The first match versus Cameroon should have been a 3-0 victory -- if not for the two incorrectly disallowed goals -- and against Brazil, El Tri was an impressive unit that had the hosts on their heels for a significant amount of the second half.
Mexico has not conceded a single goal after 180 minutes of soccer in Brazil. Who would've thought?
The defence and the perceived slowness of Francisco "Maza" Rodriguez and Rafa Marquez was widely proclaimed to be a major weakness in this side. But all three centre-backs have been excellent. Rodriguez was the major question mark after his poor form with Club America, but he has been a rock and Marquez has been the "Kaiser de Michoacan" of old.
Behind them, Guillermo Ochoa is an early candidate for keeper of the tournament, while the midfield trio of Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez, Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera have been both supporting the defence and bursting through to attack. They've all covered a significant amount of ground over the two games so far and been the heartbeat of the team.
But the overall positive has been the Mexico team's attitude. It has been first class. Players have supported each other on the field, spoken well to the media, appeared to get along with each other and locals in Brazil.
In the likely event that El Tri doesn't win the World Cup, Mexicans can at least say their team gave everything and went down fighting. And that means a lot, especially for a country whose GDP is roughly one fifth of the United States and, with the exception of boxing, doesn't consistently excel on the global sporting stage.
The World Cup represents a chance for the team to show Mexico in a good light, which it undoubtedly has so far.
Every time Mexico gives away a corner or a free-kick in its own half, it really is hide-behind-the-sofa time for fans, with fingers, legs and anything else crossed for good luck. The organization from El Tri defending set pieces has been poor -- as coach Miguel Herrera has admitted -- and it was surprising that Cameroon and Brazil didn't capitalize on Mexico's weakness. Croatia will certainly be pinpointing it in preparation for Monday's showdown.
The other negative has been Mexico only netting once. There is still a slight lack of creation in midfield and with Herrera not having his best game against Brazil, there was a definite weakness in that department of Mexico's game.
A draw or Cameroon win would have made things so much easier for Mexico, but Croatia defeated a shambolic African side 4-0 in Manaus on Wednesday.
That means Monday is a showdown for Mexico against the European side. If all the good work thus far from Herrera and the players isn't to be undone, Mexico needs at least a point to reach the last 16 for the sixth consecutive World Cup. Lose and El Tri departs Brazil. It is as simple as that.
The match threatens to be a nail-biter, one of those World Cup moments that ties the stomach in knots and in which heroes are created. The game still seems so far away and the real build-up, tension and hype haven't even begun. It would be a shame for Mexico to go out after two good displays, but Croatia could legitimately argue exactly the same.
The other slightly ugly ordeal could come afterward, with Mexico to face either Chile or the Netherlands in a potential Round of 16 clash. Chile has been one of the three most impressive outfits so far at the World Cup, while Dutchman Robin van Persie has started the World Cup like a man possessed.