MEXICO: Why the Brazil friendly matters
The friendly between two of the world's finest sides, both fielding representative teams, will air at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34). Mexico will counter a skilled Brazilian team with its superstars -- Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Giovani Dos Santos and Rafa Marquez -- and the knowledge that Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre hasn't lost since making his debut as manager in February.
El Tricolor is 10-0-4 under the former national team midfielder.
Here are three reasons to follow the action:
1. 'CHICHARITO' AND RONALDINHO
Hernandez, among the world's most admired strikers since joining Manchester United following last year's World Cup, is finally healthy after taking a few knocks to start the season. He has scored 22 goals in his first 31 appearances for Mexico, and his appearance opposite Brazilian attacker Ronaldinho -- also an iconic superstar, one whose time internationally is dwindling -- is a big deal.
The Brazilians know this.
“He has been standing out in Manchester, his confidence is very high, and he is a very dangerous player,” defender Lucas, who plays at English Premier League rival Liverpool, told a media gathering in Mexico on Sunday. “He's very fast and can surprise you at any time.
“But there are other players, too. There is a player who is playing for Tottenham [Giovani] who has many qualities, but Chicharito is the great [player from Mexico].”
Ronaldinho returned to Brazil's national team in August -- after a nine-month absence following his exclusion from last year's World Cup team -- and is starring at home, with Flamengo, following a decade in Europe. He spent most of his years on the continent with Barcelona, where his teammates included Marquez and Giovani.
Gio, just a youth player with the Spanish giant during the Brazilian's tenure, said he was excited for the chance to play against Ronaldinho.
“For me, he has always been an example,” he said. “I admire him. I respect him. He is a great player.”
2. HOMECOMING KEEPER
Oswaldo Sanchez was a cause célèbre after his father died on the eve of the 2006 World Cup, with his marathon sprint from Germany home for the funeral and back in time for El Tri's opener against Iran drawing widespread support around the globe.
Sanchez dropped down the depth chart after 2006, and former coach Javier Aguirre, who guided Mexico at last year's World Cup, had no use for him at all.
Sanchez's recall is a big deal in Torreon, where he captains Santos Laguna. With Guillermo Ochoa out because of injury, the expectation among local fans is their hero is going to play.
3. BROTHERS AT ARMSThis is a big deal for Giovani, too. The 22-year-old forward is half-Brazilian.
His dad was Zizinho, a Brazilian player who toiled most of his career in Mexico (and spent a season nearly 25 years ago with the L.A. Lazers in the old Major Indoor Soccer League) and produced two El Tri players (among three pros), although youngest brother Jonathan has been on the outs since throwing a fit when he was left off the World Cup side.
Gio, born in Monterrey, has real skills, Brazilian-type skills -- as we witnessed in Mexico's CONCACAF Gold Cup title-game win in June over the U.S. at the Rose Bowl. To take on his father's homeland is something else.
“Obviously, I have family in Brazil, and it's special for me to play against Brazil,” he said. “It's a great nation, and their football is the strongest, and these are the kind of games I've always enjoyed.”
Mexico has a winning record in international matchups against Brazil -- well, at least in those played on Mexican soil. At Mexico City's massive Estadio Azteca.
El Tri rarely loses at Azteca, and they've won four times in five games in the storied stadium: in a 1968 friendly (2-1), the 1999 Confederations Cup final (4-3, one of the greatest games we've ever seen), and twice, including the final, at the 2003 CONCACAF Gold Cup (1-0 and 1-0).
Away from Azteca (all at Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara), Brazil has won twice and drawn twice. And Brazil has won in Mexico at the highest level -- at the 1970 World Cup, routing Italy in an Azteca final with what many believe is the greatest national team ever assembled.
5. IT'S BRAZIL
There's a lot of buzz around the rich, young talent on Mexico's national team, about how this could be the first CONCACAF team to truly contend for a World Cup championship. Could be.
So consider this a test against what will be the overwhelming favorite to capture the crown in 2014. Who knows who among the group Mano Menezes has brought will represent the Canarinha in Brazil -- there are some big names on the list, none more so than rising star Neymar -- but the depth of talent is such that, really, it doesn't matter. All Brazil teams, the logic goes, are brilliant, even when they're not.
“I think the name speaks for itself,” said Hernandez. “Everyone knows what Brazil is, historically and now. We must never disparage any selection, but we expect the best from Brazil.”
Goalkeepers: Oswaldo Sanchez (Santos Laguna), Aldredo Talavera (Toluca)
Defenders: Efrain Juarez (Real Zaragoza/Spain), Rafael Marquez (New York Red Bulls/MLS), Hector Moreno (Espanyol/Spain), Sergio Perez (Monterrey), Francisco Javier Rodriguez (VFB Stuttgart/Germany), Carlos Salcido (UANL Tigres), Jorge Torres Nilo (UANL Tigres)
Midfielders: Edgar Andrade (Jaguares), Pablo Barrera (Real Zaragoza/Spain), Israel Castro (Cruz Azul), Andres Guardado (Deportivo La Coruna/Spain), Jesus Molina (Club America), Zinha (Toluca)
Forwards: Giovani Dos Santos (Tottenham/England), Javier Hernandez (Manchester United/England), Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna), Angel Reyna (Club America)
Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo), Neto (Fiorentina.Italy)
Defenders: Adriano (Barcelona/Spain), Daniel Alves (Barcelona/Spain), David Luiz (Chelsea/England), Dede (Vasco da Gama), Fabio (Manchester United/England) Marcelo (Real Madrid/Spain), Rever (Atletico Mineiro), Thiago Silva (AC Milan/Italy)
Midfielders: Elias (Sporting/Portugal), Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk/Ukraine), Hernanes (Lazio/Italy), Lucas (Sao Paulo), Lucas Leiva (Liverpool/England), Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich/Germany), Oscar (Internacional), Sandro (Tottenham/England),
Forwards: Fred (Fluminense), Hulk (Porto/Portugal), Jonas (Valencia/Spain), Kleber (Porto/Portugal), Neymar (Santos), Ronaldinho (Flamengo)