SAO PAULO (AP) — Mexico owes its place at the World Cup to an injury-time comeback by the United States. Cameroon needed a last-minute loan to end a player strike over bonuses and put the squad on a plane to Brazil.
However rocky their roads to the World Cup, both are here now and mindful of the desperate need to start well when they meet in Group A on Friday. Brazil and Croatia loom later.
Without a crucial equalizer by Graham Zusi, which was followed by a winner from Aron Johannsson in a remarkable 3-2 victory over Panama in qualifying last year, Mexico would have missed out on the sport's showcase event for the first time since 1990.
The U.S. saved its neighbor with the late win, sending Olympic champion Mexico and not Panama to the final playoffs and ultimately to Brazil. So, this World Cup feels like a bonus that should be seized on for some of the Mexican players.
"This is my first and probably my last World Cup so you can bet that I will give my all to make history with this team," said 30-year-old striker Oribe Peralta, the hero when Mexico beat Neymar's Brazil in the Olympic final in London two years ago.
For Cameroon, bonus has been a bad word recently.
The West Africans also left it late to get to the World Cup, with the squad's arrival delayed by a day after players initially refused to get on a plane in a dispute over their bonus payments for the tournament. The Cameroon Football Federation borrowed money to increase the bonuses, it said, and the team boarded for Brazil.
Little was expected from either at this World Cup, but opening with a win at Estadio das Dunas in the northeastern city of Natal would change the outlook.
Mexico is under Miguel Herrera, a coach at his first international tournament and the fourth national team manager in four years. El Tri is also without starting midfielders Juan Carlos Medina and Luis Montes, who were both lost to injuries sustained in preparation for the World Cup and "very valuable players," according to Herrera.
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