Mexico skipper Rafael Marquez believes the Aztecs can end a near three-decade absence from the quarter-finals and go on to challenge for the World Cup itself.
Mexico host Cameroon at Estadio das Dunas in Natal on Friday looking for three points that will be crucial if they are to head confidently into further Group A games against hosts Brazil and Croatia.
Depite a shaky qualifying campaign and recent friendly losses to Bosnia and Portugal, veteran defender Marquez says confidence, thanks to coach Miguel Herrera, is brimming in the Mexico camp where there is a strong belief they can go all the way and win their first World Cup, 28 years after their last quarter-finals appearance.
“This is a window for all of us, for many of the players it’s a huge opportunity to raise their level and for others to see us play,” 35-year-old Marquez told reporters on Thursday.
“You don’t get many chances to do that. That’s what I always tell the lads. Our group is strong and in our minds we believe we can make it all the way to the finals and make history,” added Marquez, who is appearing in his fourth World Cup finals.
Flamboyant Herrera, who missed out on playing for Mexico at USA ’94 after being dropped for punching a photographer, is in charge of a side that has failed in the past five World Cups to get to the crucial ‘fifth game’.
But the 46-year-old, who only took charge in time for a two-legged playoff win over New Zealand (9-3) that secured Mexico’s ticket to the finals, is confident his side have the quality to throw their hat into a ring expected to be dominated by Brazil, Spain, Argentina, the Netherlands and Germany.
“The group is very robust. I’ve been very impressed how hard they have been working coming into the World Cup,” said Herrera.
“I’m starting to feel butterflies in my stomach. Coming into the stadium, you feel like running on to the pitch and watching the lads do their thing.
“After every training session finishes I feel reassured because I know that every single one of the players is going to run themselves into the ground in a bid to help us get through this group and go on to make history.”
Mexico have never faced Cameroon, and while Herrera said his technical team have done their homework on what he regards as a “strong side who move quickly up the pitch,” Marquez has pointed to the danger posed by Chelsea striker Samuel Eto’o.
The pair played together at Barcelona, and Marquez, now with Mexican side Leon, added: “It will be special because he’s a good friend of mine. We were teammates at Barcelona.
“Now we’re opponents and I’ll have to be on top of him because he’s one of the pillars of their team.
“It’s crucial we start well, take the three points and build momentum for the big challenges that lie ahead,” added Marquez, who has won 120 caps since making his debut in 1997.
Herrera added: “There’s no question. We have to win this match. It’s important to get points as quickly as possible.
“We don’t want to be facing Brazil desperate for a win, or going into our third game (against Croatia) in a similar position.”