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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Americans Haunted By A Phantom Call

Major, major props to Team USA for not succumbing to despair after falling behind 0-2 against a surprising Slovenian squad, that apparently holds Chuck Brown in no small amount of reverence. The fact that America’s team equalized in the second half is a testament to the grit and can-do attitude that fueled the establishment and growth of this great nation.

Of course, it was lackadaisical marking and a flaccid attack that put them in the early hole and to be sure that will surely be addressed by head coach Bob Bradley. Resiliency is a trademark of a team that can make a deep run in this, the greatest of all sporting events, and the American proved that they have just that.

The story of this match should have been that, a scrappy American squad falls behind early only to come roaring back in the second half to tie, then in the closing minutes to win on a Maurice Edu strike off a set piece. But nooooo…

Instead, the story of the match is head referee Koman Coulibaly from Mali who made an atrocious call that nullfied Edu’s potential game-winner. Coulibaly called Michael Bradley offside on the play despite not being in a position to make such a call. You see, that call typically goes to one of the linesmen who has a better angle on it. What makes this especially frustrating is that no one knew what the nullifying call was.

Even before making up this offside, this ref had shown a remarkable ability to make a buffoon of himself. He gave US forward Robbie Findley a yellow card for a handball. Fine and good, except that the ball hit Findley in the face. I don’t know maybe in Mali a hand is a face and a face is a hand, who knows?

I do know that this may sound condescending but what the hell is a man from Mali (FIFA Rank: 54) doing officiating a contest on this, the grandest of stages? What’s more, why is the Saudi ref (KSA’s FIFA Rank: 66) who clumsily presided over the México-France match also afforded the opportunity on this stage? Yes, I know that not all refs from low ranking FIFA members are laughably incompetent, but I’m beginning to sense a pattern and I’m not the only one.

In my opinion, the best football/fútbol is played in Europe and in Latin America so why not fill the World Cup referee pool overflowing with the best men from the leagues therein?

Mr. Coulibaly showed that he has no business presiding over a juice box-ridden and orange slice-infested FFPS lovefest much less a World Cup match.

All that said, here are some thoughts on what transpired:

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Move Over Lloyd Christmas

In that great cinematic work, Dumb and Dumber, Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) asked Mike Starr’s character, “Wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?” And he proceeded to serenade him with what, at the time, was the most annoying sound in the world. Here’s the clip:

Well, suffice it to say, that sound plays second fiddle to the drone emanating from those ubiquitous South African “stadium horns”, vuvuzelas. That infernal noise was first heard by a worldwide audience during last year’s Confederations’ Cup. They were annoying then, and they are annoying now at the World Cup.

Opinion varies as to whether these horns are “annoying irritants” or “joyful expressions of African culture”, but at the risk of sounding dismissive of other cultures, they simply are annoying and irritating expressions of joyful African culture.

Whether it’s a South African, German or Mexican (below) providing the wind power, the noise produced is equally irritating. So much so that earplugs have become a hot item in South Africa. One might conclude that the vuvuzela was a clever scheme concocted by ear plug vendors, but I digress…

I took this pic after a México win at Reliant Stadium a couple of years ago, a match which proved to be my first exposure to the glorified funnels. As horrible as the noise is, it can’t take away from the beautiful game, especially at an event like the World Cup.

However, it would be a good if somehow Univision or ESPN found a way to filter out the vuvuzela noise, as the BBC is thinking of doing.

Here are a couple of observations from yesterday and today’s action:

  • The Germans have looked the best out of all the teams that have played so far. So effortless do the Krauts look, so crisp and pinpoint their passes are, are they not? They seem to have mastered the troublesome Jabulani (the official match ball), could it be because most of their squad plays in the Bundesliga, which used the Jabulani as its match ball last season?  Things that make you go hmmm…
  • Speaking of ze Germans…  How ’bout that rousing advertisement for globalization that their squad is?  The German National Team, dubbed Die Mannschaft (insert joke here), boasts a naturalized Brazilian, a son of Turkish immigrants, a guy named Gomez (born in Germany, has a Spanish father), 2 naturalized Poles (seems to be a running gag), another guy whose father is Tunisian.  Ol’ Adolf must be turning over in his grave…
  • What is it with Italy allowing headers from Latin American teams at the World Cup?  In ’02 it was México’s Jared Borghetti and today it was Paraguay’s Antolín Alcaraz who did the honors. Like in ’02 against El Tri Italy tied with Paraguay 1-1.
  • ESPN, I know that you learned from the last World Cup and hired good announcers to man your booth but you are still lagging behind Univision’s varsity, Pablo Ramirez and Jésus “El Profe” Bracamontes.  After Italy equalized today, Ramirez sung in Italian.  That is how you do it ESPN.  When a goal is scored don’t call it like it’s a throw-in, call it “with feelin'” as Jon Bon Jovi crooned.

Finally, on a totally unrelated not, you are very welcome Baylor.

The White Rabbit Will Lead México to An Early Exit

Surely it must mean something that I posted on Team USA’s shocking draw with England before posting on the opening match of the 2010 World Cup, which pitted host South Africa against my beloved Tri.  What it means is that the opening match left a bad taste in my mouth.

Like the US and England, South Africa and México tied 1-1. For South Africa that’s as good as a win and it’s safe to say that for the team representing my native land, that result is as bad as a loss.

Again, if careful and exegetic analysis of the match are your cup of tea, go check out it here.

Before the ball even got rolling there was a problem for México: Óscar “El Conejo” (The rabbit) Pérez starting at keeper for México. What catastrophe has to unfold for Mexican helmsman Javier “El Vasco” (The Basque) Aguirre to leave this guy on the friggin’ bench? I won’t even get into another lousy decision by Vasco: starting Guille Franco as the point man up front. To summarize Franco’s brilliant performance, he whiffed on 3 clear scoring opportunities. Two off-target headers and a feeble shot on goal that Bishop Tutu could have stopped.

It’s worth noting that after South Africa opened the scoring, Desmond started cutting a rug. I’d point out something about the dignity that accompanies age but then I’d come across as the woman (not to mention legalistic Baptists) who despised King David in 2 Samuel.

Like Rudy, Conejo is 5-foot-nothing, unlike Rudy, he is a wee bit more than a “100-nothing”. In the modern era of fútbol (after ’66 when they used that ridiculous volleyball as a match ball), no team has gone deep into the World Cup with a keeper that vertically challenged.

I’d understand if the man still had his ups, but he’s 37!!!!!! Whatever spring he might have had is long gone. I’d also understand if you didn’t have any other options, but riding the pine like some perpetual bridesmaid is Sideshow Bob Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa (right). Vasco, if Allstate is going to make Memo the centerpiece of an entire ad campaign, the least you do is start the man. Forget the fact that he’s 6′, young and in the prime of his career.

Throughout the match, Pérez looked to be way in over his head. He whiffed on a couple of crosses into the box that a taller and/or athletic keeper would have easily snagged. Given that set pieces and the aerial game are 2 of México’s main problems, it’s inexplicable why Aguirre goes with Pérez. I’m not sure that even Memo would have stopped South Africa’s impressive goal, but judging by the replay, Pérez was a few inches from getting at least a glove on it.

Then in what could have been South Africa’s game winner, Pérez defends it by doing a jumping jack [Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images]:

Pérez has no business being on this team, much less being the starting keeper. If Aguirre comes to his senses and starts Ochoa, at least this gives the team a better chance and will eclipse some of the other shortcomings that were in full bloom against South Africa (inability to capitalize, adventures in set pieces etc).

Given Aguirre’s noted stubbornness and pride, I have a feeling he will continue to follow his white rabbit (below, Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) all the way into the hole that is not making it past the group stage.

Run, rabbit run… all the way to the bench please

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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“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.

México 2, Belize 0: Mini-Flags, Plastic Shofars, and Meximullets, Oh My!

Went with my pops and my youngest sister to last Sunday’s World Cup qualifying match here at Reliant Stadium between my beloved Tri and Belize. Took my trusty Kodak Z740 and took some shots of the game.

As to El Tri’s performance, they did not play as well as their talent level would suggest. Yes they did win, but their inability to finish around the box was glaring. Arsenal wunderkind Carlos Vela (below) played up front for most of the match and missed a clear put back.

Vela did redeem himself later by nudging in a rebound off a free kick for Mexico’s first (and winning) score. Here he is celebrating that score with some of his teammates,

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