Guillermo Ochoa feels it is only right that Mexico fans are finally backing Juan Carlos Osorio ahead of the match against Sweden in Ekaterinburg on Wednesday.
Supporters had often voiced their considerable displeasure with the head coach amid a series of inconsistent performances during his tenure, including a humiliating 7-0 Copa America defeat to Chile in 2016, followed by the shock 1-0 loss to Jamaica in the semi-finals of last year’s Gold Cup.
That fraught relationship has been transformed into a love affair in Russia, where Mexico stunned World Cup holders Germany and then dispatched South Korea 2-1 to close in on a place in the round of 16.
“It is very deserved that the fans recognised the coach,” goalkeeper Ochoa told a news conference at the team’s training base.
“He’s a very dedicated and passionate person, always looking to learn. He’s a football almanac, he lives for football and the Mexican players.”
Mexico are in a commanding position at the top of Group F, although Germany’s dramatic late winner in a 2-1 victory over Sweden means, should results go against them on the final matchday, El Tri could yet fail to progress.
“We were in the airport when we heard [about the Germany goal],” Ochoa said. “Honestly, we didn’t do any calculations, or mathematics.
“Regardless of how Germany did against Sweden, we were always going to play for first position in the group in the third game against Sweden.”
Sweden sit third in the group, level on three points and with the same goal difference of zero as Germany, leaving Sebastian Larsson and his team-mates to make a simple calculation.
“I know that if we win, we continue,” he said.
“If we win with more [goals] than Germany wins, we win the group. I’m not going to say we’re a better team, but I believe in our group.
“We have shown that we can give the best teams great difficulties. We know we have to play as close to the top level as we can.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Mexico – Andres Guardado
PSV star Hirving Lozano and West Ham’s Javier Hernandez have grabbed the spotlight for Mexico so far in Russia, but captain Andres Guardado has been a key figure at the base of El Tri’s midfield, marshalling his team-mates and combining well with fellow pivot Hector Herrera to break up opposition attacks and trigger his own team’s forays forward.
Sweden – Jimmy Durmaz
A late substitute against Germany, Jimmy Durmaz gave away the foul that allowed Toni Kroos to score Germany’s stunning late winner. Should he play, all eyes will be on the forward’s response to the racist social media abuse he received in the wake of the incident, and which prompted Sweden’s squad to issue of united condemnation of the perpetrators.
KEY OPTA STATS:
– Mexico have never won three consecutive matches at the World Cup and could become the first CONCACAF team to achieve this feat in World Cup history.
– Sweden’s defeat to Germany was their first in the group stage of the World Cup since 1990, when they lost 2-1 to Costa Rica.
– Sweden’s Ola Toivonen did not score in 23 matches for Toulouse in Ligue 1 in the 2017-18, failing with all 19 of his shots – at the 2018 World Cup, Toivonen has scored one goal from just two shots.
– Sweden registered just 24 per cent possession in their 2-1 defeat to Germany, their lowest figure in a World Cup match since 1966.