Mexico’s road to South Africa
The past couple of years have not been smooth for Mexico, with three coaches passing through and more than sixty players representing the team. Recently, though Mexico have found a steadier hand in the influence of Javier Aguirre. The former Atletico Madrid coach has put together a balanced team of rising stars and established talent.
They call him El Vasco (the Basque), and following his appointment to the team Mexico shot from fifth to second place in the final six-team qualification group in the CONCACAF Zone, winning five games, drawing one and losing only one.
Qualification for South Africa was not easy, though. Mexico disposed of Belize without undue hassle in the second qualifying round, but were then drawn into a tough group with Jamaica, Canada and Honduras in the next phase. At this time El Tri were coached by Sven Goran Eriksson, and they struggled to assert their place and only scraped in the fourth and final round in goal difference.
Their erratic form continued in the final six-team round-robin group, which started disappointingly with a 2-0 defeat in the USA. They then beat Costa Rica by the same scoreline, but lost 3-1 to Honduras. That defeat cost Eriksson his position, and Aguirre stepped in, as he did so on the road to South Korea and Japan in 2002 under similar circumstances.
With Aguirre at the helm, the Mexicans kicked off with a 2-1 reverse in El Salvador. Victories over each of their five group rivals followed and granted Mexico a ticket to the finals with one game to spare. Following a draw against Trinidad and Tobago in that final outing, the Mexicans ended the group in second place, behind only their eternal rivals USA.
Mexican fans should perhaps be thanking veteran playmaker Cuauhtemoc Blanco for their side’s turnaround in fortunes. Having been drawn out of his retirement by Aguirre, the talented older player became the icon of the revitalised team, assisting his younger team-mates to achieve their best potential form.
His return to the team has seen a rise in performance from players such as Guillermo Ochoa, Efrain Juarez, Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos. These players, along with Barca’s Rafael Marquez, are certain to provide the backbone of the 2010 squad that will travel to South Africa.
Impressively, Mexico have qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals a grand total of 14 times, which is more than any other side from the CONCACAF Zone. They achieved their best ever performances in the finals as tournament hosts, in both 1970 and 1986, where they reached the last eight each time. South Africa will mark their fifth appearance in the finals in a row, this time in Group A alongside the hosts, Uruguay and France.
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