Peter Young
30 January 2010
England Football Online
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Comment: England and Mexico World Cup Preparations Contrasted

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The following is based on an e-mail message from Peter Young to Chris Goodwin on 30 January 2010 and a later e-mail exchange with Glen Isherwood.

I got this from Luis Bueno's Sports Illustrated column on Mexico's preparation for the World Cup.  It should be compared to England's preparation (or lack thereof).

Mexico's World Cup three-step

This year, the Mexican national team has three games on its schedule that matter: South Africa on June 11, France on June 17 and Uruguay on June 22. El Tri will play upwards of 12 other games before helping to usher in the 2010 World Cup. Ultimately, those results will be meaningless, but that's not to say those other matches are of no significance.

While Mexico's pre-World Cup calendar isn't quite fully complete, the Mexican Football Federation filled many of the blanks on Thursday by naming five of the six opponents for Mexico's U.S.-based friendlies. Also, FMF executive Nestor de la Torre all but filled out El Tri's European friendly slate with three matches to be played in May and possibly June.

Save for a couple of dates here and there, Mexico's calendar has been filled out rather nicely. While de la Torre said Thursday that the U.S.-based friendlies are part of a two-step process, the entire friendly calendar can be divided into three parts: observation, gathering and focusing.

Observation games: Bolivia (Feb. 24 in San Francisco), New Zealand (March 3 in Pasadena, Calif.) and Iceland (March 17 in Charlotte, N.C.). These games will give coach Javier Aguirre the chance to test out players -- and tactics as well, if he so chooses -- against some lightweights. Playing against lesser opponents is normally not a great thing, but in this case what matters most is how players respond to an international setting. Bolivia, New Zealand and Iceland will fit the bill just fine. Mexico should probably win these games, but the wins and losses don't matter.

Gathering games: Ecuador (May 7 in New York), Senegal (May 10 in Chicago) and an opponent to be determined (May 13 in Houston). You can also add Mexico's May 16 match against Chile at Estadio Azteca here, a game the Chilean federation had previously announced. These games will be Mexico's first set after it announces its roster for South Africa, and the beginning of its final World Cup preparations.

Focusing games: England (in May), Netherlands (May 26 in Austria) and Italy (in either late May or early June in Brussels). De la Torre said the FMF was working out the details for the England and Italy matches, as the Dutch game had already been confirmed. This is as close to the World Cup as Mexico will get before setting foot on African soil. There's little to hold back here, not because the results matter but because this is a chance to iron out the kinks before the scores count.

Mexico will play another game at home in March, rumored to be at the new Territorio Santos Modelo stadium in Torre´┐Żn, which will provide Aguirre another opportunity to see potential Cup-bound players in action. The roster will come together by April. In all likelihood, Aguirre already has more than a dozen slots filled, but rounding out the rest of the squad won't be an insignificant chore as every spot is a coveted and important one.

That's at least 12 matches Mexico will play in preparation.  Meanwhile England will play three preparatory matches, one in March against Egypt and two in May, almost certainly against Mexico and Japan.  No doubt some would say I ought to count the friendly against Brazil last November in Qatar as a preparatory match,  but no one took that match seriously and most of England's best players didn't bother to show up, so I don't include it.

The attitude in England is that friendlies are meaningless.  They don't seem to understand that a team needs friendlies to prepare for the unfriendlies.  Actually, they do realize it, but they're not willing to make the sacrifices, costly to their precious club football, that proper preparation would require.  But instead of admitting that, they pretend friendlies are a waste of time.

I'm not saying England should play as many matches as Mexico.  But we might do well to remember that England played 12 matches, three of which were home internationals, in the season ending in their only World Cup victory in 1966,  against Wales and Austria in October, Northern Ireland in November, Spain in December, Poland in January, West Germany in February, Scotland in April, Yugoslavia in May, Finland and Norway in June and Denmark and Poland in July. 

If that all happened too long ago, then take a look at the last and only other time England did well in the World Cup, 1990, when, following their last qualification matches against Sweden and Poland in the preceding September and October, they played seven friendly  preparatory matches between November and June, against Italy, Yugoslavia, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Uruguay and Tunisia (the latter because England were to play Egypt in World Cup group play).  All save the last were played at Wembley, thus minimizing travel disruptions of domestic competitions.

As for what Bueno calls the Observation stage of the preparatory matches, it ought to be remembered that neither David Platt nor Paul Gascoigne--both of whom played instrumental roles in England reaching the World Cup 1990 semifinals--were established in the England team before the string of friendlies leading up to the World Cup.

Note that the Mexico team will be playing sufficiently often that when they play their first World Cup 2010 match, they will be the equivalent of a club team reaching form together after a month's league play.  England will have played three exhibition matches over three and a half months.  Those who think this makes no difference have no appreciation of football.

I read a Press Association report that "Capello's belief is that, coming from the same region, Mexico will offer England the best possible guide to what they are likely to face from the United States, even though many of Bob Bradley's players, including star man Landon Donovan, are currently based in Europe."

Mexico as preparation for the U.S.A. because they come from the same region?  The two teams have always played totally contrasting styles of football.  Has Capello lost it?  Or is this just a lame English invention designed to cover the almost total lack of preparation for the World Cup.  Only the Egypt match in March has any relevance to any of England's group opponents (Algeria).  The Mexico match might help a bit if England meet Latin opposition at some point.  God knows why they're playing Japan as their final preparatory match, other than to have a kick-around.

Once again I do not expect too much from England in the World Cup--perhaps a quarterfinal appearance again at best--because the entire English football establishment--the Football Association, the clubs, the fans, the media--fails to recognize what must be done to reach the last stages of the World Cup.  Still, I will be very happy to be proven wrong.