Mexico take on Poland in a potentially pivotal encounter in Group C on Tuesday.
The match will kick off at 4pm GMT in Doha, Qatar, at Stadium 974, which is the first temporary venue in World Cup history, having been constructed from 974 recycled shipping containers.
Mexico are heading into their eighth consecutive World Cup appearance, having been eliminated at the last 16 stage in each of their last seven entries.
Former Argentina boss and player Gerardo Martino is the man tasked with breaking that cycle in Qatar, having been in charge of El Tri since January 2019.
The 60-year-old, who spent a season with Barcelona before taking the Argentina job in 2014, guided Mexico to their eighth Gold Cup triumph by beating USA in the final in 2019, before the Americans gained their revenge on his side two years later.
Mexico’s place at the World Cup was secured with a 2-0 win against El Salvador on the final matchday, as they finished level on points with Canada at the top of CONCACAF qualifying, and crucially three points clear of Costa Rica in the playoff spot.
Whether they have the talent at their disposal to make a serious fist of reaching the last eight for the first time since hosting the tournament in 1986 remains to be seen, but their upcoming fixture against Poland could be crucial in terms of advancing from Group C.
Poland, meanwhile, are aiming to progress beyond the group stage for the first time since Mexico ’86, with their opening game against that nation likely to be crucial given that outright second favourites Argentina are also in their group.
The Eagles have fallen at the first hurdle in each of their last three World Cup appearances in 2002, 2006 and 2018 – winning one match and losing two in each of those editions – having failed to hit the heights of finishing third in 1974 and 1982.
Former Legia Warslaw boss Czeslaw Michniewicz was appointed as head coach earlier this year, making himself an almost instant hero in the position by guiding the Poles to a 2-0 win against Sweden in a qualifying playoff to reach Qatar.
As has often been the case in the past decade or so, their hopes of performing well at a major tournament heavily hinge on the form of legendary forward Robert Lewandowski, who is still yet to score at a World Cup having blanked in all three matches in 2018.
The 34-year-old will be determined to rectify that unwanted record against Mexico on Tuesday, and potentially put his nation in the driving seat for second spot in Group C in the process.
Star striker Raul Jimenez, who has scored 29 goals for Mexico, made his first appearance for almost three months when coming off the substitutes’ bench at half time of Mexico’s 2-1 defeat to Sweden in a friendly on Wednesday.
The 31-year-old has not featured for Wolverhampton Wanderers since August due to an ongoing groin issue, which makes his place in the starting XI against Poland on Tuesday a serious doubt.
Henry Martin is ready and waiting to lead the line should Jimenez be deemed only fit enough for the bench, while Jesus Corona has been ruled out of the entire tournament due to an ankle injury.
Poland, meanwhile, have seen Bartlomiej Dragowski, Jacek Goralski and Adam Buksa withdraw from their squad due to injury.
Lewandowski was an unused substitute during his nation’s 1-0 win against Chile in a friendly on Wednesday, with Michniewicz preferring to keep his talisman fresh for the tournament.
Aston Villa’s Matty Cash, who only made his international debut a year ago after applying for a Polish passport through his mother’s descent, should shake off a shoulder issue to be available for selection, but he faces plenty of competition at right wing-back.
Mexico possible starting lineup:
Ochoa; Sanchez, Montes, Moreno, Gallardo; Alvarez, Herrera, Guardado; Lozano, Martin, Vega
Poland possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Bednarek, Glik, Kiwior; Bereszynski, Krychowiak, Zielinski, Szymanski, Zalewski; Swiderski, Lewandowski