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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“Yes We Can!”

This chant (“Yes We Can!” or “¡Sí Se Puede!”) was introduced to the mainstream in the last Presidential election. Supporters of Barack Obama appropriated it and made it their rallying cry. If people have no problem hijacking Scripture to achieve whatever end, why not some silly phrase to usher in an era of perceived hope and change?

I say appropriated because the phrase did come from somewhere, and no I’m not talking about Bob the Builder (“Can we fix it? Yes we can!”).

The phrase is one of México’s contributions to the world of sports fanaticism. If memory serves me correct, I first heard it during the 1998 World Cup. It was used by the masses to support the national team as they went up against European powers such as the Netherlands (2-2 tie) and Germany (1-2 loss). Here’s an action shot from that match,

So close Luis, yet so far…

It makes sense why the Mexican collective would concoct such a phrase, given my native land’s ya merito (close but no cigar) performances every 4 years. They look great against top-flight competition, give us all hope of a breakthrough and then get barely beaten in elimination games. There was Germany in ’86, Bulgaria in ’94, Germany again in ’98, USA (this one still hurts) in ’02, and Argentina in ’06. I expect this upcoming World Cup to be no different, but I hope I’m wrong.

I guess I could also go on how the phrase reflects the class struggle that has been the fulcrum of México’s troubled history.

Which brings us full circle to the re-emergence of the phrase at recent protests against a law in Arizona which requires peace officers to ask for proof of legal status.

The law only applies in Arizona, for now, but 7,000 people took to the streets here in H-town in protest. They, of course, made copious use of this phrase.

I agree, this law is ridiculous and is probably unconstitutional. If you’re against nationalized health-care because it’s unconstitutional then why aren’t you against this law? But I digress…

Back to the marchers, I just have one thing to ask: Stop using this slogan.

It doesn’t apply here. “Yes We Can”, what? What can you do? Even if this was law here in Texas, what can you do? It’s obvious that Congress isn’t doing anything about immigration reform. It’ll cost too much politically to do so.

Come up with something better and leave this phrase where it belongs, when we root for our beloved Tri come June 11th.

162 Years and Counting…

Ever since General Scott and his few good men made martyrs out of 6 Mexican cadets 162 years ago, Americans have not won anything in México City.

Here’s a lithograph depicting the American victory at Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War.

Battle of Chapultepec

As painful as it is for most Mexicans to remember that tragic loss, it is equally joyous to celebrate , in a lesser realm of course, México’s victory over Team USA in a World Cup qualifying match at Estadio Azteca last Wednesday (I know it’s been a week but this post has been marinating).

Needless to say, I love my adoptive country, these United States of America but when it comes to fútbol, my heart will always be with my beloved Tricolor.

Which is why I thoroughly enjoyed Team USA’s inability to win in México City, those of you who like numbers here is Team USA’s record there: 0 wins, 23 losses, 1 tie.

Before talking about the match I’d like to point out the shameless behavior of some Mexican fans during the contest. Sports Illustrated reporter Grant Wahl was doused with beer and shown double rods by one of my thoughtless and classless paisanos. Mexican nemesis Landon Donovan was doused with various bodily fluids as he was preparing to take a corner kick (below right)

Classless

Queridos compadres,
Vayan al Coloso, pónganse la verde, grítenle la porra de Jalisco al Pato Howard, pero por el amor de Dios no hagan el tipo de cosas que nos hacen ver mal a todos nosotros y que causen que unos escriban este
tipo de idioteces.

Wahl handled the classlessness of some Mexicans with class, the same cannot be said of the writer of the cited link.

On to the match…

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México Actually Wins a Penalty Shootout

Mexican fans you know the routine. In an elimination match, you better hope that El Tri wins in the first 90 minutes or if not then manages to put the match away during the 30 minute overtime, why?

Because as all of us know, Mexican fútbolistas are inept at taking penalty kicks. The memories are many and are painful.

There was the ’86 World Cup quarterfinals when ze Germans bested México 4-1 in a penalty shootout. While it’s easy to blame then Mexican goalie, Pablo Larios, let’s keep in mind that his teammates couldn’t beat the German keeper. [Let’s not even mention Hugo Sanchez’ annulled goal, grrrrrr]

Then there was the ’94 World Cup Round of 16 against Bulgaria. Even though, yes Mexican keeper Jorge Campos (below right) could have better lived up to the hype his ridiculous jersey’s generated, his teammates wilted at the 11-meter dot and couldn’t buy a penalty kick. The Bulgarian keeper was the Germans and my countrymen’s penalty takers were the French.
Jorge Campos

On a lesser scale there was the harrowing loss to the hated Argentines in the 2005 Confederations Cup. In that case, my countrymen made their kicks only to have national team luminary Ricardo Osorio miss a sudden death penalty kick.

My point with all this historical hash is that my countrymen have shown an iniquitous ineptitude to execute penalty kicks and/or block them. What do you expect when your goalies’ height haven’t even come close to 6′? (This is slowly changing)

All that changed last night when my native land’s 11 bested Costa Rica in a penalty shootout in the Gold Cup Semifinal.

The frustrated/jubilant thoughts of a Mexican after the jump…

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El Tri Finally Lives Up to the Perpetual Hype

Perhaps it was the fact that they were playing in the new stadium of the Dallas Cowboys, easily the most over-hyped American professional sports team, but México finally played a game worthy of the hype that perpetually emanates from my native land.

They trounced the seemingly hapless Haitians yesterday in the Gold Cup quarterfinals, 4-0.

It’s hard to find any negative aspects to the way my countrymen played, heck even my favorite whipping boy, Capt. Gerardo Torrado, played a decent game. Miguel Sabah, Torrado’s heir to the throne in my whipping boy hierarchy, scored twice. What is this world coming to?

Most importantly, the guy who holds the keys to El Tri’s future, the electrifying Giovanni Dos Santos, had a stellar perfromance. He netted a spectacular goal right before the half.

Here’s a pic of right before he took the shot:
Gio

The Haitian players seemed overwhelmed by a relentless Mexican attack, but according to their coach Jairo Rios,

The biggest fear wasn’t Mexico. These players are used to playing in front of 2,000-5,000 people. With 80,000-plus cheering for Mexico, there were players whose legs were shaking.

This match was the first time since perhaps El Tri’s victory over Brazil in the 2007 Copa America that it was an unexasperating thing to watch this team. The passing was crisp and they were able to finish near goal. Let’s hope they can continue at this level all the way to the final where surely the Norteamericanos will be laying in wait.

By the way Cowboy Stadium looks great but I doubt that it will ever look better than this:

Mexico

Yes, the Mexican flag is gloriously displayed in what is the biggest high-def television in the world (160′ x 72′, 11,520 square feet).

You can watch the highlights in the following video:

[H/t on video: Soccer by Ives]

Maybe Team USA Thought They Were Playing México

It is quite possible that the only people who thought that the U.S. Men’s National Team had a shot against Spain, FIFA’s #1-ranked team, were the 11 guys on the pitch and their half-Vulcan coach (only thing missing are the ears, must be an autosomal recessive allele).

The best some fans of the red, white and blue were hoping for was at least a good showing (i.e. an 0-2 loss).

Prose and verse could be committed to endless reams of paper in praise of the American back line, the main reason Team USA pulled off the upset. Most notable among them was central defender, Oguchi Onyewu.

Univision’s Pablo Ramírez glossed him “Oguchi the Omnipresent” in reference to Onyewu blocking and winning balls all over the pitch. “Oguchi, siempre, Oguchi…”, another Ramírez instant classic.

I watched the match twice (part of it during my lunch hour, and the whole thing in the evening when Telefutura replayed it) and one thing became evident to me.

Team USA’s performance looked eerily familiar, why? Because their effort yesterday mirrored what they put on display when they play my beloved Tri. Opportunistic scoring and impregnable defense are the hallmarks of the Americans’ game against their bitter rivals to the South.

The only difference, of course, is that yesterday, the Spanish players didn’t employ any of the classless tactics sometimes employed by my countrymen (below).

rafa marquez

Congrats to Bob Bradley and the rest of Team USA.

Benny Feilhaber and Maxi Rodríguez, separated at birth?

maxi.jpgbenny.jpg

Another do or die match, another loss by México in a very winnable situation. This time the stakes were a little higher (I suppose) than the match against Argentina in Germany 2006.

Playing the role of Maxi Rodríguez was American Benny Feilhaber who booted a beautiful shot over a diving Oswaldo Sánchez.

Like Rodríguez’ masterpiece, Feilhaber’s took the air of out of a scrappy Mexican squad who sought to take a match which was wide open.

The final score (USA 2, Mexico 1) was disappointing to this Mexican but not entirely unexpected, though in typical Tri fashion, they gave us hope only to take it back (Bofo could have changed that if he hadn’t paunched that shot not 8 feet in front of the American goal).

All in all, El Tri underachieved throughout this tournament yet found themselves in the final, and didn’t embarrass themselves, though Team USA still has their number.

To win Copa América we go!