MEXICO CITY — The United States and Mexico will renew their soccer rivalry on Tuesday when they face each other in the intimidating atmosphere of a packed Azteca Stadium with World Cup qualification points on the line.
The Americans recovered from last month’s defeat to Honduras with Friday’s 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in snowy Denver.
“It’s a huge game,” U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann said of Tuesday’s match. “When you have the opportunity to come to Mexico City and play at a sold-out Azteca Stadium with 110,000 people — that is what you want to experience.
“It’s a special game, a big rivalry. We expect a difficult game, an exciting game and we are very confident”.
The Mexicans are under pressure after drawing their opening two qualifiers — at home to Jamaica and away to Honduras — in the region drawing from North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Klinsmann’s team showed strong character and fight as it battled in dreadful conditions to get three home points on the board on Friday.
He will hope for the same attitude in the testing conditions of Azteca.
After Mexico labored to a scoreless draw against Jamaica, it looked back to its best on Friday — but only for 70 minutes. Striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez scored two superb goals before Honduras replied with two of its own in the last 15 minutes to snatch a 2-2 draw.
With no shortage of criticism from the media and fans, Mexico is well aware that Tuesday is a “must-win” game and is keen to avoid the scenes in the second half of the Jamaica game when their own fans turned against them.
“The pressure is on them,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “At a certain point there is a chance the crowd could turn on them and so we have to understand they will have big pressure to come out and play a good game from the start and we have to know how to deal with that.”
Expectations are high in Mexico, especially given the country’s triumph in soccer at the London Olympics, which has raised hopes of a strong performance at the World Cup in Brazil next year — should El Tri qualify.
“We know the necessity and obligation of beating the United States,” winger Andres Guardado said. “I hope that people will be with us and that they are going to create some pressure.”
Hernandez, the live-wire forward for Manchester United, is the main threat to a U.S. defense missing several players through injury.
The 24-year-old has scored 30 goals in just 45 appearances for his national side and is well provided for by Guardado and attacker Giovani Dos Santos, who make up a fast and creative Mexican forward line.
The Americans have never won at the Azteca in a World Cup qualifier but they did earn their first victory at the venue in a friendly in August.
However, Klinsmann’s plans to contain Mexico have been dealt a blow by the loss of midfielder Jermaine Jones.
The U.S. coach has yet to decide on a replacement although Maurice Edu is the most likely option with Sacha Kljestan and Kyle Beckerman also options.
The top three teams from the six-team group will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at next year’s World Cup in Brazil while the fourth-place team faces a playoff against the Oceania region winner.