Nearly two weeks have passed since the groups for the World Cup draw were announced, and Mexico's daunting initial challenge hasn't lessened in its enormity:
Mexico vs. South Africa, June 11, 2010.
The moment Mexico fell into the second slot of Group A, El Tricolor's toughest challenge in any of its recent World Cup groups became a reality. Mexico will open the first World Cup on African soil along with the host South Africans in roughly six months' time, and will follow up that unenviable opener with games against France and Uruguay.
And while El Tricolor has the necessary prerequisites for handling such an enormous task, plenty must go right from now until June to ensure that Mexico doesn't kick off South Africa 2010 on the wrong foot. Here's a quick check list for what
Fortunately for Mexico, the players took the initial correct approach to their first and toughest task. After the reality of the situation settled down,
Mexico can ill afford to drop the opening match. Already, history is on South Africa's side, as no host nation has ever failed to advance past the first round. And while pundits have labeled South Africa as the weakest seeded nation and are a lightly regarded national team, the Bafana Bafana will benefit from massive support.
Overall, Mexico has a difficult group. With France waiting in the second match, a loss in the opener would set up a potentially all-or-nothing game against the French. And while France looked rather pedestrian during its own qualifying campaign,
Uruguay is Mexico's final challenge, and while
Interestingly, this is the third consecutive World Cup in which a CONCACAF team has drawn the host nation. In 2006, Costa Rica was slaughtered by Germany in the opener in a highly entertaining 5-2 match. In '02, the U.S. and South Korea tied 1-1 (the last World Cup, incidentally, that featured the defending champion in the opener instead of the host nation). In 1990, another CONCACAF nation played against the host as the U.S. lost to Italy 1-0.
Still, it was a bit of a shock -- not just because of the timing (word of Blanco's move surfaced during the MLS playoffs), but also because Veracruz plays in Mexico's second division. Now, Blanco joins a league devoid of any world-class players -- or anyone near such a level -- where the propensity for injury seems high. And while some would argue this is exactly the type of league in which he spent the last three years, Blanco will be faced with these realities come January.
Playing is better than not playing at all, and thus playing with a second-division side is better than taking most, if not all, of January off, which would have been the case if Blanco had stayed in MLS. But playing in the World Cup is his most significant goal for in 2010. He'll be 37 by the first kick, and he needs to get there in one piece.
What's likely to happen is that Blanco's new
Mexico relied heavily on 20-year-old
For Mexico's sake, though, the two youngsters need to hit the spring months in stride. Blanco is Mexico's most important player, but Mexico's hopes also lie with its talented young duo. If dos Santos and Vela are healthy and in form, Mexico's chances for success will be greater. If the two limp into June, El Tri will lose a valuable element to its attack.
Assuming the two players can get consistent playing time for Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, respectively, Mexico potentially could field three players who have honed their skills in the English Premier League --
Mexico could feature the Group A's most potent attack if all goes well during the remainder of the Premiership campaign.