Man United sports scientist helping Mexico stay primed for World Cup matches

MOSCOW -- The moment many Mexico fans have waited four long years for is almost upon them. El Tri crashed out of Brazil 2014 in devastating fashion after a dubious penalty was awarded to Arjen Robben late on in the 2-1 round-of-16 loss. On Monday, there is a new opportunity to make amends and reach the quarterfinals of a World Cup for the first time outside of Mexico.

But whatever happens on the pitch against Brazil in Samara, preparations off it have been detailed so as to leave no room for excuses should things not go right.

The comprehensive plan to prepare players ahead of the tournament, which coach Juan Carlos Osorio detailed to ESPN FC, included four factors: mental growth, nutrition and diet, analysis of opposition and a strength program.

But less has been written or talked about regarding what has been going on during the tournament in terms of recovery from games and maintaining the players at as close to peak condition as possible. It's not even a stretch to perhaps suggest that one of the reasons Osorio chose to repeat a starting XI for the first time against Sweden -- his 51st match in charge -- was down to how detailed a plan for recovery has been in place.

The plan for the recovery process for games and attempting to create an environment in which the players can be at their optimal level speaks to Osorio's focus on seeking out the best practices in world sport and trying to emulate them.

Through one of Osorio's meetings with Sir Alex Ferguson, the Colombian was put in contact with high-performance and recovery expert Dr. Robin Thorpe, who works at Manchester United.

Osorio approached Thorpe and the two began discussing the fast-moving field of high-performance and recovery science -- well established in the United Kingdom, but less so in the Americas -- and how it could help Mexico in Russia. Thorpe was then brought in as a consultant and began to work with Mexican federation staff to manage areas of high performance and recovery and enhance it in a periodized and scientific way during the tournament and between matches.

"It's something that has been done differently," midfielder and captain Andres Guardado said Friday during a news conference. "In the plane, the nutrition ... in the stadium we have ice baths, all the latest things we have to recharge the legs; compression stockings, massages. The coach has been concerned about us recovering as soon as possible and [being] 100 percent in the games."

Thorpe traveled to Los Angeles in late May as the team prepared for Russia, developing and presenting ideas to the players, coaching staff and directors and going over plans with the medical department and nutritionist.

On a practical level, it has led to a collaborative plan and framework among the different departments within the federation. For example, the bespoke mattresses used by the players were designed specifically for professional football players and had to be imported into Russia and delivered to the team's training camp on the outskirts of Moscow. This was an important factor in creating positive "sleep hygiene" in camp, but far from the only one. The ideal temperature each player sleeps best at -- normally quite cool, around 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) -- has been established and blackout curtains put up in the rooms to block out the many hours of daylight in the Russian summer and allow the players to rest.

When Mexico traveled to Rostov-on-Don and Yekaterinburg, it was naturally more difficult to control the environment in hotels. And it was notable that team captain Rafa Marquez and the rest of the squad came down to urge the many Mexico fans outside to keep the noise down and let them sleep ahead of the game against South Korea in Rostov -- a match Mexico won.

Training times have been adapted with sleeping hours in mind and the time with families regimented to allow players to escape from the intensity of being mentally fixated on everything surrounding a World Cup. For example, the players were given Friday afternoon off, and the space away from the group is a key element for both mental and physical recovery.

Players are even advised on the use of mobile phones later in the evening, as the light from it can have some negative effect on sleep. The downside is that it might cause even more unwanted stress to ban use altogether, and therefore a practical balance has been suggested.

Even before getting to Russia, Thorpe gave pointers to compensate for jet lag, such as being as recovered as possible and in the best physical state before boarding, although the long-distance travel is aided by the fact the majority of El Tri's squad are used to trans-Atlantic trips.

On the nutritional side, a cherry-based drink has been introduced after games. The idea is that it provides recovery benefits, as well as aiding sleep in some cases. And one of the core philosophies of making the Russian camp -- over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) from Mexico City -- a home away from home has extended to food.

"We brought a lot of food and we also brought a chef to make every dish as the player likes it," Mexico's nutritionist, Beatriz Boullosa, told the Associated Press. "We are making corn tortillas that taste glorious.

"Players ask for their quesadillas and their tacos and that really helps psychologically, because you bring them closer to home."

It's going to take an almighty effort from Mexico to get past Brazil on the pitch in the round of 16, but there's already been a huge one behind the scenes off it to give the players the best chance to make it to the quarterfinals.