Will Miguel Herrera be considered a failure if Mexico loses to Croatia?
Mexico coach Miguel Herrera doesn't mince words, so when my chance came to ask him a question shortly before the team left for Brazil, I was direct as well.
"Coach, when you look at the level of your team, what to you signifies success in this World Cup?"
Herrera answered, "At a minimum, success would be a fifth game."
What he didn't say is what I must declare now: Anything less will be a failure.
Herrera has established the standard for Mexico in his own words, clearly setting the minimum -- a fifth game. Falling short of the minimum is clearly failure.
If Mexico loses to Croatia on Monday, and that country and Brazil advance, the 2014 tournament for El Tri won't be an abject failure, along the lines of Spain or England, but it will be a huge disappointment nonetheless.
Herrera, honest as ever, has set the team up for that. No one knows better than him that Mexico's track record in advancing out of group play is stellar. He hasn't even bothered to measure himself by that standard and doesn't speak about matching that feat. He talks of going further.
Yes, it is likely that even if El Tri are eliminated, many fans will have happy memories of Guillermo Ochoa's heroics against Brazil and Mexico's valiant effort in holding the host country to a scoreless draw. The victory over Cameroon, though frustrating due to poor offside calls on Giovani dos Santos, was still a win. The team has done things it can be proud of in this competition.
Yet the thousands of Mexico fans who have traveled to Brazil don't want moral victories. They're happy to be here, especially given the difficulties the team had during CONCACAF qualification, but now that they're here, the old World Cup hunger has returned.
It's fueled by awareness of the team's talent. Ten members of the squad are the reigning Olympic champions. Ochoa has shown that he deserves to be one of the stars of the tournament. The potential for greatness is there, so to exit in the group stage would be a tragic collapse.
Herrera has fallen short of expectations before -- most recently in his final league coaching stint, when Club America fell short in the final hurdle of the Apertura tournament at the end of last year. Herrera's hissy fit at referees, which caused him to get tossed from the match, proves that he does not take setbacks well.
That's a good sign, actually, for anyone worried that the numerous selfies and happy social media messages might be turning Mexico's Brazilian expedition into more of a vacation than a mission. Herrera may seem happy-go-lucky and generally he is affable and friendly, but there is a deep competitive fire burning within. It flames up whenever his team does well, but it also burns him up with frustration when his players fall short.
To a certain extent, it feels a bit like Mexico hasn't even really gotten going. The one goal the team has managed was a putback by squad stalwart Oribe Peralta. Dos Santos is primed to make a difference in a game, and because officials have denied him in past games, he may be more driven than ever. Javier Hernandez still shows flashes of the form that made him one of Mexico's best. There's more in the entire team than has been shown.
So the team has to show up against Croatia and finish what it started. A job half-done isn't done at all.
Andrea Canales covers both Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter @soccercanales.