HERZOGENAURACH, Germany (AP) — Mexico's extensive schedule of 12 games in preparation for the World Cup has boosted team morale, particularly a 2-1 victory over defending World Cup champion Italy.
Thursday's victory was Mexico's eighth win in 12 exhibition games prior to the World Cup and first over Italy. Its only two losses were against two teams considered among the favorites — England and the Netherlands. England won 3-1 and the Dutch were 2-1 winners. Mexico also played scoreless draws with Iceland and Ecuador.
Mexico, which has never made it past the quarterfinals in the World Cup, opens with host South Africa next Friday in the tournament opener. It also faces France and Uruguay in Group A, with many Mexicans feeling the team could be one of the big surprises in South Africa.
Coach Javier Aguirre's main job may be to calm the euphoria.
"El Tri will arrive in high morale at the World Cup with the security of knowing it can beat anyone," read a front-page headline Friday in the sports newspaper Record.
"We're going to the World Cup without fear of success," Aguirre said. "We've played Italy, England and the Netherlands ... and we are here."
Aguirre acknowledged his main worry may be Mexico's defense, particularly defending on set plays against taller, more physical teams.
"There are reasons to worry," said Aguirre, who took over the national team just over a year ago when Sven-Goran Eriksson was fired. "Italy's two best plays were like that (off dead balls) and it's obvious were doing something poorly. ... We need to score more goals and let in fewer, but we are headed in the right direction."
Mexico is scheduled to arrive Saturday in Johannesburg from its training base in northern Bavaria.
El Tri finished second in qualifying behind the United States in the North and Central American and the Caribbean region. Honduras was the third qualifier.