Mexico has fallen at the last-16 hurdle in each of the last six World Cups, but to have a chance at ending that hex, El Tri must tangle with Germany, Sweden and South Korea.
Mexico enjoyed a comfortable run to the 2018 World Cup, but things are not all quite as well as they seem for El Tri.
Despite the country's impressive form in qualifying, doubt looms over the future of manager Juan Carlos Osorio, who claimed in March that he had turned down a new contract from the national side and had been in contact with other national FAs. A sizeable portion of the Mexican media have been calling for Osorio's head for some time now, claiming that the Colombian has not imbued the side with any defined sense of style and plays uninspiring football.
Mexico has also been guilty of coming up short in bigger matches, its 4-1 defeat to Germany in last year's Confederations Cup serving as a striking example. With Mexico and Germany meeting again in the group stage this year, Osorio will have a chance to prove his doubters wrong. And then, of course, there's the curse of the fifth game, with Mexico unable to get beyond the round of 16 in each of its last six World Cups.
Questions certainly remain about this Mexico side–but can they be answered positively in Russia this summer? Here's a closer look at Mexico entering the World Cup.
How They Qualified
Mexico entered CONCACAF qualifying at the fourth round and managed to go unbeaten in its first group, picking up five wins and a draw against Honduras, El Salvador and Canada. A 2-0 away victory at Honduras underlined Mexico's credentials as the dominating side in the group, with Honduras being arguably the second-best side out of the four.
Though the fifth round saw Mexico go mano a mano with the likes of Costa Rica, Osorio's side held its nerve to produce another string of impressive results in the group. A 2-0 win against 2014 World Cup quarterfinalists Costa Rica was the standout result, with Mexico losing just one of its 10 matches in the round–while also ending the curse of Columbus by beating the United States 2-1 in what was Jurgen Klinsmann's penultimate match as manager of the Americans.
Mexico ultimately coasted through the Hexagonal and finished atop the qualifying table by five points.
Group Stage Games
Mexico kicks off the fixtures in Group F with a tie against Germany on June 17 before facing South Korea on June 23 in a match-up that should lean in favor of Osorio's side. A clash with Sweden on June 27 rounds out group play.
Though there is certainly room for some upsets and surprises in this group, Mexico will certainly fancy its chances of making it to the knockout stages once again. Any points earned vs. Germany would set the tone for a strong run, but should Mexico take care of business against the other two sides–which it will expect to beat–then it will have its place in the last 16.
Possible Route to the Final
Mexico will face a side from Group E should it succeed in qualifying for the knockout stages. Realistically, this means it is most likely to face either Brazil or Switzerland.
While Mexico might fancy their chances of snatching a win against Switzerland, the task of controlling Brazil's explosive attacking talent may prove to be too much, and it would be hard to see Osorio's side reaching the quarterfinals should this be the outcome.
Despite making the knockout stage in each of the last six World Cup, Mexico has not gone past the round of 16 since the 1986 tournament and has only reached the last eight twice in the history of the competition–both times on home soil. It will need to dig deep to improve this time around, no matter the opposition.
Goalkeepers: Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)
Defenders: Edson Alvarez (America), Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Jesus Gallardo (Pumas), Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad), Diego Reyes (FC Porto), Miguel Layun (Sevilla), Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Midfielders: Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt), Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Hector Herrera (Porto), Rafa Marquez (Atlas)
Forwards: Javier Aquino (Tigres), Jesus Corona (Porto), Javier Hernandez (West Ham United), Hirving Lozano (PSV Eindhoven), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Oribe Peralta (Club America), Carlos Vela (LAFC)
(4-3-3) Ochoa; Gallardo, Salcedo, Ayala, Layun; Marquez, Fabian, J. Dos Santos; Lozano, Hernandez, G. Dos Santos
Mexico has the quality to make it out of their group, particularly as neither Sweden nor South Korea is quite as intimidating as Germany. However, whether Mexico has the potential to go one further and reach the last eight is another story.
Despite the good results in qualifying, this Mexico team has been criticized for being unconvincing even in victory for much of the qualifying process. Furthermore, the CONCACAF qualifiers are hardly the most rigorous in the world, with very few semi-decent national sides to speak of beyond Mexico. Could the weakness of Mexico's opposition have made El Tri look more impressive than they actually were?
There are a number of big names in this Mexico side who can deliver on a good day; particularly the likes of MLS standouts Giovani Dos Santos, Carlos Vela and West Ham poacher Javier Hernandez. Despite all the attacking firepower, scoring has been an issue of late, with Mexico netting just one goal in its last three matches. The jury remains very much out on whether or not this Mexico side can pull together to pull off a shock in Russia this summer. With plenty of tough sides playing in the competition, don't be surprised to see El Tri exit in the round of 16 for a seventh World Cup in a row.