Mexico enter the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a swagger in their step. They topped their CONCACAF qualifying group and in Marco Fabian and Carlos Salcedo, they have two Bundesliga stars who know how David can beat Goliath.
Despite the confidence in the team, however, they have a challenging draw. El Tri’s first game of the tournament will be against holders Germany on 17 June in Moscow. They then play 2002 semi-finalists South Korea and finally face Sweden on 27 June.
The Mexicans know the first match against Die Mannschaft will set the tone for the tournament, though, and they will be sure to look to the two players who know the Germans best: recent DFB Cup winners, Eintracht Frankfurt pair Fabian and Salcedo.
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"Germany are opponents who don't feel comfortable when pressed and that's what the physical work we've been doing is for because if we don't leave them spaces, they aren't as comfortable," said Salcedo. "Not letting them play will be important because physically we're really good and that will help a lot."
Salcedo knows what he is talking about. Frankfurt faced a similar dilemma when they played Bayern Munich in last month's DFB Cup final, with few expecting them to prevail. The Eagles drew on all their strength and the tactical nous of their coach Niko Kovac – who moves to Bayern this summer – to overcome what many thought was an insuperable obstacle.
That victory has instilled great belief in El Tri's Frankfurt fraternity for their World Cup hopes, and Salcedo believes they can mimic some of the things Frankfurt did to Bayern to beat the Germans.
For Fabian, just being part of the squad is a joy that seemed like a dream only a few months ago after a serious injury to his back that hampered him during the 2017/18 Bundesliga season.
"I'm a very positive person," said Fabian. "But before [the injury] I had many negative thoughts and one of them was not to play again because especially in uncertainty, when they could not find what I had, there were very strong pains and there came a moment where I could not walk, I could not dress myself."
Fabian’s ailment was eventually diagnosed and he underwent surgery to fix the problem and he appeared in a handful of games for the Eagles before the season ended. The mentality he fortified during his spell on the sideline will surely be something he can draw on during this World Cup.
"I'm happy and I feel reborn, now I value not only football but also life," Fabian said. "To continue doing what you like, it's something very nice."
Fabian will therefore be champing at the bit for 17 June as he and Mexico look to hit the Russian ground running, and perhaps spring another surprise of Frankfurt proportions.