Wednesday, February 24, 2010

La Volpe: Mexico Better Advance (as Usual)

Mexico may be the most underrated national side on the planet. It shows up to the World Cup with its undersized players who almost all play in the country's domestic league, which is of a high level but little-known outside its own borders. And then it makes it to the second round like clockwork (four straight), and how many countries in the world who aren't Germany, Italy, Brazil and Argentina can say that?

So it was a sort of an interesting non-story of a story the other day when Ricardo La Volpe, the coach who helped El Tri get to the final 16 of Germany 2006, where Mexico lost to the hosts 2-1 in extra time, said, to the effect, that current coach Javier Aguirre better get to the second round.

Which is something of a "well, duh" moment, because the second round is expected in Mexico, even if the rest of the world is mildly surprised nearly every four years.

La Volpe's comments, including that observation that not getting to the second round would constitute "a low blow" for Mexican soccer, seemed to be motivated by Aguirre's revelation that he plans to leave El Tri after South Africa 2010 and go coach in Europe. Aguirre cited national insecurity caused by narco-terror.

La Volpe seems to believe that by making that announcement ahead of the World Cup that it could somehow hurt the national-team effort. Well, perhaps. But it isn't as if Aguirre is some long-term coach with whom players have bonded. He replaced Sven-Goran Eriksson less than a year ago, and Eriksson replaced Hugo Sanchez (Mexico's answer to Diego Maradona -- as a coach) a year before, and Sanchez had replaced La Volpe.

Plus, no one in Mexico these days really blames prominent sports figures from leaving the country. Well, they do blame them, but they don't hold it against them.

An increasing number of Mexico's top players play in Europe when, for decades, Mexican players were fully expected to stay home for their entire careers. Among the most prominent to go to Europe: Rafael Marquez, at Barcelona; Ricardo Osorio, at Stuttgart; Giovani dos Santos, at Galatasary; Andres Guardado, at Deportivo; Omar Bravo, at Liverpool; and Carlos Vela, at Arsenal.

Mexico is in Group A with South Africa, France and Uruguay. Not an easy group, but not a brutal one, either. I think El Tri is still playing when half the field goes home.

La Volpe may have broached the whole subject because the Argentinian says he is ready to resume running Mexico's national team. And he may get the chance, after SA2010 -- and Mexico's likely second-round appearance, particularly if/when it defeats South Africa in the tournament's opening match.

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