MOSCOW: Mexico’s astonishing win over Germany has raised hopes that they could finally break a long-running jinx at the World Cup and go beyond the second round.
Proceeding to the last eight or beyond has become a Sisyphean task for the Mexicans who have gone out in the round of 16 at the last six World Cups and have not reached the quarter-finals since they hosted the competition in 1986.
The routine is pretty much the same: Mexico arrive with high hopes but amid off-field controversy, progress comfortably through the group stage and then lose their nerve in the last 16.
The last World Cup was a classic example where Mexico led the Netherlands until the 88th minute before conceding two quickfire goals to lose 2-1.
There have also been two defeats to Argentina, one to Bulgaria on penalties, one against Germany — where they also led until well into the second half — and an especially painful one against neighbours the United States.
Sunday’s remarkable win over the world champions, however, has suggested that this Mexico team are psychologically stronger than their predecessors and that may just help them take the extra step.
“We have a professional in this area who has done a very good job,” coach Juan Carlos Osorio said on Sunday. “We work on psychology with books, videos, films and set phrases.”
A key part of the approach is that Osorio, Mexico’s ninth coach since the 2006 World Cup, tries to shield the players from the ferocious pressure of the Mexican media.
“The pressure is all on me so they can go out and enjoy their football,” he said. “If we win, the credit goes to the players and if not, then it’s my fault… that’s the world of football.”
Osorio has certainly suffered during his three years in a job and a set up which one of his predecessors, Sven-Goran Eriksson, described as “absurd.”
The Swede said he had to report to “different people all with different interests” and that the owners of the professional clubs exerted heavy influence over the national team.
Osorio survived calls for his head after his team were thrashed 7-0 by Chile at the Copa America Centenario two years ago.
He was also under fire at the Confederations Cup last year for rotating the team, especially after a lacklustre win over New Zealand and emphatic defeat against Germany in the semi-finals.
But a relatively straightforward qualification — a stark contrast to 2014 when Mexico almost failed to reach Brazil — eased the pressure on the softly-spoken Colombian.
“(Osorio) deserves this win the most,” said midfielder Rafael Marquez, who is playing at his fifth World Cup.
“He’s worked, he’s suffered a lot and no one believed in him apart from us. He’s planned this very well.”