Lucky qualifiers look to make their own luck

Lucky qualifiers look to make their own luck

Cameroon, Mexico eye winning start

Lucky qualifiers look to make their own luck

Mexico and Cameroon would be prime contenders for the title of most fortunate qualifiers for the World Cup but both will fancy their chances of progressing from Group A if they can win their opening encounter on Friday.

Hosts Brazil and Croatia round out the group so traditional early tournament caution could be thrown to the wind at the Dunas arena with both teams knowing that a draw is unlikely to much help their cause.

CONCACAF powerhouse Mexico just scraped through to a playoff only courtesy of a dramatic last gasp victory by the United States over Panama last year before overwhelming New Zealand to secure their place at a sixth successive World Cup.

They have shown distinct signs of revival under the aggressive guidance of Miguel Herrera – the team's fourth coach since last September – and should offer plenty of entertainment to the many fans who have followed them down to Brazil.

Cameroon's Lions likewise looked anything but indomitable in their qualifying campaign and they needed the reversal of a 2-0 defeat to Togo after their West African rivals fielded a suspended player to get to a playoff.

They thumped Tunisia 4-1 on aggregate to reach a seventh successive World Cup finals, however, and a 2-2 draw against Germany in a friendly last week offered some hope that Volker Finke's team were starting to click.

Cameroon football is never that simple, however, and the squad boarded a flight to Brazil some 12 hours late on Monday after a threatened strike over bonus payments was averted by frantic negotiations.

The differences between skipper Samuel Eto'o and some of his team-mates have been well publicised but the 33-year-old remains a formidable striker and will be hoping to emulate the even more aged Roger Milla's heroics at the 1990 finals in Italy.

That unprecedented journey to the quarter-finals was the last time Cameroon progressed beyond the first round, however, and they will be looking for only their second World Cup win in the intervening 24 years on Friday.

With Alex Song and Enoh Eyong offering a solid bedrock to the Cameroon midfield, Mexico are likely to focus their attack on the flanks, where Herrera's wingbacks will look to get behind the defence.

Up front, Herrera looks likely to leave Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez – Mexico's third most prolific goalscorer of all time – on the bench in favour of the partnership of Oribe Peralta and Giovani dos Santos.

"El Tri" are also likely to be cheered on by the majority of the fans at the 38,958-capacity Dunas arena. Natal is the closest of the host venues to Africa but it is the sight of the sombrero and the sound of the mariachi band that have been most evident in the resort city in the days leading up to the match.

The dream of those fans is a first quarter-final since Mexico hosted the 1986 meet but defeat to Cameroon on Friday is likely to see them bow out in the group stage for the first time since 1978. 

Squads: Mexico: 1. Jose Corona, 2. Francisco Rodriguez, 3. Carlos Salcido, 4. Rafael Marquez, 5. Diego Reyes, 6. Hector Herrera, 7. Miguel Layun, 8. Marco Fabian, 9. Raul Jimenez, 10. Giovani Dos Santos, 11. Alan Pulido, 12. Alfredo Talavera, 13. Guillermo Ochoa, 14. Javier Hernandez, 15. Hector Moreno, 16. Miguel Ponce, 17. Osaac Brizuela, 18. Andres Guardado, 19. Oribe Peralta, 20. Javier Aquino, 21. Carlos Pena, 22. Paul Aguilar, 23. Jose Vazquez.

Cameroon: 1. Loic Feudjou, 2. Benoit Assou Ekotto, 3. Nicolas Nkoulou, 4. Cedric Djeugoue, 5. Dany Nounkeu, 6. Alexandre Song, 7. Landry Nguemo, 8. Benjamin Moukandjo, 9. Samuel Eto’o, 10. Vincent Aboubakar, 11. Jean Makoun, 12. Henri Bedimo, 13. Eric Choupo Moting, 14. Aurelian Chedjou, 15. Pierre Webo, 16. Charles Itandje, 17. Stephane Mbia, 18. Eyong Enoh, 19. Fabrice Olinga, 20. Edgar Salli, 21. Joel Matip, 22. Allan Nyom, 23. Sammy Ndjock.