MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico and the United States renew their 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 Mexicans are under pressure after drawing their opening two CONCACAF qualifiers - at home to Jamaica and away to Honduras.
The U.S. 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,“ said U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann. ”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”.
Klinsmann’s team showed strong character and fight as they battled in dreadful conditions to get three home points on the board on Friday and he will hope for the same attitude in the very different, testing conditions of the Azteca.
While Mexico laboured to a scoreless draw against Jamaica, they looked back to their best on Friday, at least for 70 minutes. Striker Javier Hernandez scored two superb goals before Honduras replied with two of their own in the last 15 minutes to snatch a 2-2 draw.
With no shortage of criticism from the media and fans, Mexico are well aware that Tuesday is a ‘must win’ game and are 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,” said U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley. “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 finals in Brazil next year - should ‘El Tri’ qualify.
“We know the necessity and obligation of beating the United States,” said winger Andres Guardado. “I hope that people will be with us and that they are going to create some pressure.”
Livewire Manchester United forward Hernandez is the main threat to a U.S. defence missing several players through injury.
The 24-year-old has scored 30 goals in just 45 appearances for his national side and his 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.
But 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 represent will North and Central America and the Caribbean at next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil while fourth-placed team faces a playoff against the Oceania regional winner.
Editing by Julian Linden