LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 24: Cuauhtemoc Blanco of Mexico battles for the ball with Steven Gerrard of England during the International Friendly match between England and Mexico at Wembley Stadium on May 24, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Cuauhtemoc Blanco;Steven Gerrard
FIFA RANK: 16
One word can describe how Mexico qualified for South Africa: Drama. There is no doubt "El Tri" has been the most successful soccer nation in North and Central America for decades, but qualifying this time around featured more plots, twist and turns than a Telemundo telenovela.
Halfway through the final round of qualifying, this team was on the verge of missing the World Cup, which would have been a national tragedy.
El Tri was on its fourth manager since Germany '06, had unexplicably lost half a dozen qualifiers, and were set for a crucial match against the US in the famed Estadio Azteca. The Americans had a chance to bury their bitter rivals for good and were close to doing it when they took an early lead. But Mexico, much like its entire campaign, managed to claw their way back to pull out the victory and keep hope alive for this summer's World Cup.
If you haven't noticed by now, I'm a huge US soccer fan and will go to the grave believing a few things about that match.
1. Swine flu did affect Landon Donovan, it's the worst I've seen him play in years.
2. The US played for the tie after the early goal. I still don't know what Bob Bradley was thinking pulling his offense back...10 minutes into the game!
3. As much as I hate to admit it, El Tri deserved to win. They played to win and came out as if their soccer lives depended on it.
Mexico regained its swagger after that victory. They destroyed Costa Rica on the road and handled Honduras in the friendly confines of Azteca.
They also found balance on the roster. Mexican coach Javier Aguirre made the controversial, but right move to bring back 37 year old national hero Cuauhtémoc Blanco, eventhough his best days are behind him. Blanco gives El Tri some much needed experience and leadership, but the burden to advance lies squarely on the shoulders of the new generation of stars. Attacking midfielder Andres Guardado is in my opinion El Tri's most dangerous player and the Mexican faithful finally get to see what young star Giovanni Dos Santos can do on the World stage.
But again, it wouldn't be Mexico if it weren't drama, and there's some more headed into South Africa. Dos Santos is reportedly upset with the coach's decision to leave his brother off the team and threatened to miss the event all together. It remains to be seen how this will affect the chemistry this team has struggled to build.
And despite all that, Mexico is one of the most loved, respected and consistent soccer nations in the World. They've advanced out of the group four consecutive times, but haven't made it passed the second round since 1986. The most devastating second round loss came to the US eight years ago. (Just thought i'd throw that in there, zing!)
Still you can argue, when it comes to soccer, Mexico is America's team. The support and admiration they receive for matches played on US soil is second to none.
Coach Aguirre has already said a quarterfinal birth is the goal. I do see that happening, but if it doesn't...like the NBA commercial on TNT says.."The drama continues."
June 11 vs. South Africa - 9 a.m. CT (Opening match of tournament, El Tri must score early to take crowd out of it)
June 17 vs. France - 1:30 p.m. CT (Mexico always plays well against Euro giants, but French will be geared for this one)
June 25 vs. Uruguay - 9 a.m. CT (Depending on French mood, this could be a battle for first in group)
NEXT ON THE PITCH: SERBIA