JOHANNESBURG – The poet and essayist Octavio Paz, perhaps the most thoughtful observer of the Mexican psyche, once suggested that his people have long been weighed down by a feeling of inferiority.
On Monday, Javier Aguirre, the country’s philosophical soccer coach, said there’s no room for that kind of thinking on his team.
Instead, Aguirre wants only positive thoughts going into today’s crucial World Cup match with Uruguay, Mexico’s most important soccer game in four years.
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“If we go out there thinking that we can lose the game, fearful and full of doubt, then we’re inviting the loss,” Aguirre said in Spanish. “I’ve impressed on my players that we have to go out there intending to win.”
That’s because a win would not only qualify Mexico for the second round, but make its route to the quarterfinals much easier. With a victory, Mexico would advance as its group’s top-seeded team, facing either South Korea or Greece in the knockout round.
Otherwise, Mexico would probably face powerful Argentina, the country that knocked it from the last World Cup in the second round. Still, Aguirre insisted he’s not thinking past today.
“We have to play against Uruguay, we have to try to impose our style, protect our goal and score,” he said. “We’re second in our group with one game left. We’re looking for the three points, like we did against South Africa and France.”
And they’ll be doing it short-handed because midfielder Efrain Juarez will miss the game after picking up yellow cards in each of Mexico’s first two games, while striker Carlos Vela is out with a hamstring injury.
Andres Guardado is a likely choice to replace Juarez, but Aguirre faces a much more difficult decision about who to substitute in Vela’s spot.
Javier Hernandez has probably earned a start with his World Cup play but he’s provided such an important spark coming off the bench that Aguirre may keep him in reserve. If he does, Pablo Barrera, who replaced Vela when he was hurt, will probably get the call.
Two others who hope to play are Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Rafael Marquez, who can tie goalkeeper Antonio Carvajal’s 44-year-old record of 11 World Cup appearances by a Mexico player if they play today.
But no matter who starts, expect Mexico to play with the same attacking 4-3-3 formation it used in its previous two matches.
Uruguay, however, remains confident.
“Mexico will be a difficult rival,” defender Diego Godin said. “They play good soccer, but we have the weapons to destroy their game and we know how to cause them damage.”
Chief among those weapons is forward Diego Forlan, who scored twice and set up another goal in Uruguay’s 3-0 win over South Africa. And few managers are better acquainted with his strengths than Aguirre, who coached him in Spain.
But while Aguirre respects Forlan and the rest of the Uruguayan team, he doesn’t fear them. And he hopes his team doesn’t either.
“I don’t want us to be afraid of success,” he said. “We have a lot of young players with a great mentality, a new generation. We have seven illustrious veterans who have been infected with this mentality, this winning spirit. … This game against Uruguay is one that can take us forward. Nothing we’ve done before does us any good now.”