México Makes the Sweet Sixteen…

Uruguay and México played today in their last group stage match. The match is otherwise known as the “Loser Gets Argentina” Derby and well, México lost and for the second World Cup in a row, they will square off against the Albiceleste in the first knockout stage, the Round of 16. Much to his chagrin, I used to tease an Argentine friend that his homeland’s flag had a happy face in the middle of it. He’d vehemently deny it but turns out I was right,

To avoid West Germany v. Austria Part Deux, the last matches of the 2010 World Cup group stage are being played simultaneously. There was even some talk on Univision amongst the studio people that Uruguay and México might just take it easy, produce a draw and then both would advance into the Round of 16.

That went out the window after witnessing the opening minutes of the match. Both teams played like they were ready to take charge of the match. Understandable that México would play to win since a draw would only serve to send them on a collision course with the Gauchos. Unfortunately El Tri de todos los Mexicanos couldn’t muster even a draw, losing 0-1 and earning a grudge match with Argentina.

Speaking of Argentina, what has gotten into them? During World Cup qualifying this team was a hot mess, not a Gallic hot mess, but one nonetheless. They lost to lowly Bolivia 6-1 and almost lost drew with Peru, which would have cost them them a trip to South Africa. Now look at them, by far the best of this tournament to this point.

Today, Argentina’s “B” team carved up a stodgy Greek team like a slab of gyro meat on a spit. Sure the final score was only 2-0 but it could have easily been 5-0. Argentina is so loaded with talent that Internazionale striker Diego Milito, fresh off starring in and winning the UEFA Champions League, is reduced to riding the pine. He played today of course, because Maradona fielded the JV squad, that’s just sick.

I know I sound like a raving pessimist but how many of México’s players would make Argentina’s team, much less start? Rafa Marquez would make it, might have a shot to start, perhaps even Giovanni dos Santos, but that’s it. Memo Ochoa might have a shot as the 3rd keeper…To have a shot at beating Argentina, México will have to show something exponentially greater than they have shown up to this point. I have until Sunday to think about not if Argentina will win but by how much…

Here are some thoughts on today’s match:

The BAD
Sloppy Defense
Again, the Mexican coach chooses to go with keeper Oscar “Midget” Perez. Being taller wouldn’t have helped Conejo/Midget stop Uruguay’s score. Luis Suarez’ header was a result of shoddy and lazy defense on the part of Mexican defender and oddity, Maza Rodriguez. I say oddity because at 6’3″, Maza towers over his countrymen. Rodriguez has improved vastly playing for Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, but today with this defensive lapse and his missed opportunity right in front of the Uruguayan goal, he reverted to pre-PSV Eindhoven form.

Javier Aguirre
The Mexican coach made the curious decision to start the Mexican coelacanth, Cuauhtémoc Blanco. I know he’s a legend that no one can surpass on sheer chicanery, hell there’s even a prayer to him that is making the rounds, but he’s out of shape. Someone who is out of shape is best coming off the bench if you need a late score or an emotional infusion. I personally believe Blanco cost them momentum early.

Guillermo Franco

Then there’s an Aguirre favorite, Guillermo “Guille” Franco who once again cracked the starting lineup as the point man. Guille wasted a slew of opportunities, not by missing the goal mind you but by flopping. Someone please explain to me why having a clear path to the goal, a forward would choose to flop and go down like a marionette whose strings have been cut. Franco is Argentine by birth and I know that flopping is one of the most Argentine of traditions, but Guille for the love of Madonna’s Evita, you have a better chance of scoring when you go towards the goal than when you go towards the ground. This reminds me of my previously aforementioned Argentine friend who, when playing basketball, would catch the ball under the basket and instead of laying it up would fade away sometimes as far as the charity stripe.

Back to Franco, as if the flopping wasn’t bad enough, he managed to fan on a ball that had gotten past the keeper,


(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

How many more missed chances is this man going to have before Aguirre yanks him and puts Javier “Chicharito” Hernández in his place? Enough already, take Guille out of the lineup.

THE GOOD

Andres Guardado
The winger got the nod to start due to the hamstring injury of Carlos Vela. I know Vela has not been in top form lately but his presence was missed. At least the threat of him making a great play would have kept the Uruguayan defense a bit more honest. Guardado did a superb job of doing this however, not only that, he launched a rocket off his left foot that made the crossbar clang in pain. Had the shot gone in, it would have easily been the Goal of the Tournament.

Pablo Barrera
Again, he came on as a sub who made his presence felt. He was a thorn on Uruguay’s side very much like he was a thorn on France’s side. Makes one wonder what would happen if he was in the starting lineup…

Rafa Marquez
The central defender is playing at a high level and deserves to get the captain’s armband back. “The Mexican Kaiser” provides stability to the back line and once again showed today why he plays for one of the top clubs in the world, Barcelona.

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A Mexican’s World Cup Primer

No, it has nothing to do with Tequila shots or other such truck but rather a historical retrospective.

Mexicans get soccer fed to us in our baby bottles

I made this statement to an American friend a couple of years ago. Many will say that it is a generalization and perhaps be insulted by it. A Mexican-American chap who heard it certainly was and let it be known just how offended he was. The fact that he neither was born and spent most of his childhood living in México made his overreaction a little bit less credible.

My native land hosted the 1986 World Cup and I remember it vividly. Anyone remember the borderline offensive mascot, Pique?

[found the pic at:  http://degenerasian.blogspot.com/]

The memories are bittersweet because while Manuel Negrete’s strike made an indelible impression on my mind, the loss against ze Germans in the quarterfinals broke my young Tri-loving heart.

Over the years, we moved to America and my interest in soccer waned as it had to compete with American football, baseball and basketball. Yet every four years I was drawn to the world’s biggest sporting event, The World Cup. I have soaked in every WC since ’86, and followed especially close those in which my beloved Tri took part of. (All of them since ’86 except for Italy ’90).

I pined in ’94 to go watch them live but alas it was not to be. We are but 2 weeks away from the start of South Africa 2010 and like many of my compatriots living in all corners of the world, I am giddy with excitement.

Yet this anticipation is tempered by the ghost of México in World Cups past. Like many Mexicans I take a hopeful pessimism approach into each World Cup. Yes, the squad is a solid one with great potential but let us not set our sights too high.  Otherwise we will be disappointed if El Tri comes crashing down like cadet Juan Escutia at the Battle of Chapultepec.

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The Arm of God Haunts México

[Para Español no oprima el #1, nada mas haga click donde se termina el Ingles]

I was not able to watch yesterday’s México-England match in its entirety yesterday given the fact that this small thing called work kind of prevented it.

Thanks to Telemundo’s live streaming of the events, I did manage to catch a good chunk of the 1st half and about a quarter of the 2nd half. Kudos to Telemundo legend Andrés Cantor for dropping an f-bomb on live television. His partner, Sammy Sadovnik asked him what Mexican coach, Javier Aguirre, shouted at English captain Steven Gerrard.

Cantor obliged him by repeating Aguirre’s “Hey Steven, F*ck you!” Cantor thought the mikes were turned off, fail. Oh well, I guess the FCC doesn’t care since it is a Spanish station.

To the match…

It was good to watch El Tri go up against seemingly top-flight competition without throwing up all over themselves. That is, if we’re not going to consider the inability to defend set pieces and to put the ball in net (looking at you Carlos Vela) as examples of throwing up all over themselves.

México’s performance was tantalizing and typical of what happens when they go up against world powers (Though England hasn’t won a World Cup since 1966, they are still considered one of the world’s best, if not by merit then by tradition.)

El Tri created a myriad of scoring opportunities and yet failed to capitalize. If you want to beat good teams you have execute in front of the net. England? They had 2 corner kicks in the first half and scored in both. Granted, in the second corner English forward Peter Crouch was offsides and brushed the ball into the goal with his arm, but still.

Seeing the Frankenstein monster’s-like 6’8″ Crouch tower over my diminutive countrymen was hilarious but things would have been far more humorous and haunted if the Mexican contingent would have invited noted Mexican ref and Dracula doppelganger, Marco Antonio “Chiquidracula” Rodríguez (below)

Good teams (México is not there yet) find ways to maximize the opportunities granted to them, that they create opportunities should be a given.

I know it’s just a friendly, but the flashes of brilliance shown by the usual suspects up front, Gio and Carlos Vela, gave us Mexicans a glint of hope that maybe just maybe we might have the horses to get out of the frigging Round of 16 in South Africa. Then Vela blows 2 clear scoring chances.

Oh well, my beloved Tri has pined to be in that top tier of squads, and dwell in the lofty spires where Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy make their home. Unfortunately that is not currently the case as evidenced by the setting of this very match. This was England’s World Cup send off.

The host picks a “lesser” opponent to play in the send off match. Very much like homecoming in American football. For your homecoming, you schedule a team you know you’re going to beat. England had no doubt that it was going to beat México, hence the 3 lions scheduled my Tri.

That’s OK, until México shows that it can beat top-tier competition it will reside in the middle of the pack.

That said, I think they earned the respect of the Brits, or at least their journalists judging by some of the pieces I’ve read from their newspapers.

Here is a fine example of one from the Telegraph,

England 3 Mexico 1: match report

Up next for México? The Netherlands tomorrow at 1:30 PM.

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