Best-ever Mexican squad confident for World Cup

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2010 (AFP) - Mixing talented newcomers and crafty veterans, Mexico's team is confident of a best-ever World Cup showing at South Africa by reaching the semi-finals of the global football showdown.

"We have the best Mexican team ever," Mexican manager Javier Aguirre said. "We're not scared of anything. We're prepared for this challenge. Our intention is to have an historic World Cup."

No member of El Tricolores is more excited about their chances than two-time World Cup standout Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

"We're going for it all," he said. "We have the capacity to beat any team we play."

The Mexicans have never moved past the quarter-finals and have only gotten that far only twice and both times on home soil, most recently in 1986 when Aguirre was a midfielder.

Since replacing former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson in April of last year, Aguirre has formed a solid team from an under-achieving Mexican side.

"I asked the players, 'Do you want to make history? It's in your hands,'" Aguirre said. "I want to drill in their head that the World Cup is the pinnacle in terms of aspiring to represent your country."

South Africa, France and Uruguay will join Mexico in Group A for the opening round. Mexico could make history by keeping a host out of the last 16 for the first time in Cup history, but the team has far more in mind.

The Mexicans prepared for the World Cup with four wins and two draws on US soil before large supportive crowds, not surrendering a goal to help build a fever pitch that has Mexican fans excited in a way seldom seen before.

"This is the moment to do something big, something historic," said Rafael Marquez, the Barcelona defender who captained the past two Mexican World Cup squads.

After building such emotion, Aguirre's hopes of diminishing expectations are about as great as a sand castle holding back the tide.

"There's a lot of pressure. Millions of eyes are watching the Mexican team," Aguirre said. "The pressure is beginning to build. The Mexican people are starting to go crazy over their national team.

"The Mexican team is very talented. It has all the ingredients. But it's not going to be easy. We're in a tough group. And there are six or seven rivals who also want to win the World Cup. Brazil, Argentina, England, Spain, Germany, Italy.

"I just want people to see the reality and not say we should be champion because we have the best team in the world. Yes, we have the best Mexican team ever. Yes, we're prepared for this challenge. But it's not easy."

El Tri has three contenders at goalkeeper - young star Memo Ochoa, newcomer Luis Ernesto Michel and two World Cup veteran Oscar Perez - in a fight for the starting job that could go into the final days before the Mexicans face South Africa in the June 11 opener.

"Nobody has a role secured," Aguirre said. "We have to keep testing them to find the goalkeeper I think is the ideal one to support the team."

Carlos Salcido helps the backline stalwarts while midfielder Andres Guardado brings experience and flair while young talents such as Carlos Vela, who helped Mexico to a world junior crown as a teen, provide stamina and speed.

"We have a base of older players. And we have young players," Aguirre said. "It's a very strong mix."

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