Foes this Friday at Arena das Dunas in Natal, Mexico and Cameroon actually share a common path to Brazil 2014. Both Mexico and Cameroon seemed destined to watch the World Cup on television before their chances were revived thanks to circumstances outside their control. With Brazil a clear favorite to win Group A and Croatia a strong candidate to take second spot in the group, El Tri and the Indomitable Lions know a victory in this first game is a must to have a real chance of going far in the tournament.
After a disastrous 2013 in which four different managers were in charge of the team, Mexico heads to its opener with a starting 11 that includes only four players from the team that started one year ago in the Confederations Cup. With just over half a year to prepare for Brazil, Coach Miguel Herrera has installed a 5-3-2 system that has its main strength in its defense, where 35-year-old veteran Rafael Márquez has come back to provide the the leadership the team lacked during its awful qualifying phase. In attack, Olympic gold medal heroes Oribe Peralta and Giovani Dos Santos are two terrific talents, while Manchester United’s Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández will wait for an opportunity to make his trademark impact coming from the bench. On the other hand, the losses of likely starters Juan Carlos Medina and Luis Montes to injuries in the weeks leading to this summer's tournament forced Herrera to scramble to find a new midfield; now formed by Bayer Leverkusen’s Andrés Guardado, Porto’s Héctor Herrera and the inexperienced José Juan Vázquez, a trio that actually worked quite well in their first game together last week against Portugal.
German coach Volker Finke has had a bit more time to work with Cameroon, he was appointed in May 2013 and has opted for a very compact and organized 4-3-3 formation, yet lacking creativity in midfield at times. Like Mexico, Cameroon is likely to repeat the starting 11 of its last friendly, a 2-2 draw against Germany. Veteran captain Samuel Eto’o is still the focal point of the attack, but is now playing as a true striker, and is not able to help as much in the creation of chances as in the past. That is now the job of wingers Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Benjamin Moukandjo, who get constant help from their full backs. Marseille’s Nicolas N’Koulou and Schalke’s Joel Matip are two very solid center backs, while Konyaspor’s keeper Charles Itandje has struggled to find consistency on club level, but in recent times has showed impressive form with his national team.
Mexico have lost more games than any other team at World Cup Finals (24).
This is only the second ever meeting between these two countries; Mexico won the first clash 1-0 in a friendly in 1993.
Mexico have never beaten at African team at a World Cup Finals tournament, losing one and drawing two of their three meetings against sides from that continent so far.
Cameroon's 17 previous World Cup goals have all been scored from inside the area (15 from open play, two penalties).
Samuel Eto'o has been directly involved in Cameroon's last four World Cup goals (three goals, one assist).
Cameroon have only won one of their last 13 World Cup games (1-0 v Saudi Arabia in 2002), drawing four and losing eight.
No Cameroon player scored more than two goals in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers (Eric Choupo-Moting, Samuel Eto'o & Jean II Makoun).