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Hernandez: Defense does in Mexico

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Jun 22, 2014

Recent friendly will help vs. Croatia

With only one day until the match against Croatia, Miguel Herrera may want to look back to the tapes from Mexico's World Cup tuneup against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The 1-0 loss in Chicago on June 3 was Herrera's first setback with the national team, but it also provided the coach with some insight going forward in the World Cup.

Although it may seem like a stretch to use Bosnia-Herzegovina as an example for Croatia, Herrera stated that he thought both squads were similar. The neighboring countries use similar tactics and an attack-friendly 4-2-3-1.

- Hernandez: Three key Mexico players
- Marshall: History on Mexico's side

Keeping this in mind, what should Mexico focus on if it wishes to succeed during Monday's match?

First, El Tri must consider the similarities between Edin Dzeko and Mario Mandzukic. Dzeko was dominant against Mexico earlier this month and was able to comfortably create space for himself to shoot in the 18-yard box. Mandzukic will likely do the same and has the similar height and strength of Dzeko that will make him a threat on set pieces.

Mexico coach Miguel Herrera's confident off-field persona has inspired belief among fans of El Tri.
Miguel Herrera will have to be on top of his motivational methods to see Mexico edge Croatia in its final World Cup group stage match.

Mexico failed to close down Dzeko defensively, which means that El Tri will need to smother Mandzukic's possession if they want a different outcome. It is imperative for Mexico to constantly mark Croatia's top striker and give him little space to move up top. Mandzukic was able to score two goals in 12 minutes in his last game, and he is capable of doing it again if Mexico gives him a chance.

Second, Mexico will need to control the middle of the pitch. Bosnia-Herzegovina was able to constantly split the Mexican defense through passes that were started in the midfield. Granted, a listless Carlos Pena was playing at the time, but it proved that Mexico was extremely ineffective in possession if even one piece of the midfield three was out of sync.

CroatiaCroatia
MexicoMexico
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3
FT
Match 34
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Croatia will have the lethal and imposing duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic creating most of its squad's plays going forward. Jose Juan Vazquez, in conjunction with a higher-pressing Rafael Marquez, will need to be nearly perfect Monday against Croatia. This also requires Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera to track back and help stifle anything that Croatia throws at them in the midfield.

Finally, Mexico will need to focus on motivation. Bosnia-Herzegovina scored first, but it was El Tri in the second half of the match that looked like the squad that was more than likely to score.

It has been talked about often in the past, but Miguel Herrera has been able to make the necessary changes and halftime talks for improved second-half performances. Against the United States, Mexico came back from a two-goal deficit and tied the game. Against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mexico was not able to find the equalizer after a great half, but credit must be given to goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who secured the win for his team.

It may not seem like a big deal, but Herrera's ability to motivate the squad is extremely valuable in the World Cup, especially considering that this change of attitude was non-existent last year.

With the potential for Croatia to take an early lead, Mexico will have to remain composed and fight back, something the team has struggled with in the past. Will Miguel Herrera be the difference-maker? Will Mexico learn from its mistakes against Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Cesar Hernandez

Cesar Hernandez can't remember a time when soccer hasn't been a part of his daily routine. Within that personal immersion of fútbol is a lifelong passion for the Mexican national team. He has blogged on El Tri for four years mainly through his blog The Big Verde. Follow him on Twitter @cesarh1030.