Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hey, Wait! Mexico Is Pretty Good

As a North American soccer fan, I can't help but smile at this.

A European journalist sees Mexico play and comes away saying, "Hey, those guys are pretty good."

Even after England defeated Mexico 3-1 at Wembley on Monday.

Such is the case of this story in the Johannesburg Times, where the individual supplying the copy for the newspaper decided, "Hmm, South African could be in trouble in that World Cup opener against Mexico 17 days from now."

Twas ever thus.

Euros tend to think the United States is decent is soccer, and it is. More or less. Wins a few, loses a few.

But Mexico seems to surprise the Euros -- and apparently the Africans, too -- every four years.

What about "five straight times in the second round" do people not get? (Leaving out the 1990 World Cup, when Mexico was banned for having used an overaged player.)

Quarterfinals in 1986, round of 16 in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006.

El Tri, as Mexico is known (because Mexico's flag has three colors), is a serious opponent. They turn out cohesive, quick and technically advanced teams. They are expected to advance, and they expect if of themselves.

If you followed the link (above) to the game story, you will note that two of England's goals came in the air, in front of the net. And yes, size and playing in the air are the two biggest issues Mexico has. And they may not be issues at all against South Africa, also not a tall team.

The optimists in South Africa figured they would beat Mexico (how good can they be?) in the opener, then sneak past Uruguay and get into the second round out of Group A.

Then they say El Tri play.

The author of the Times story also points out how challenging Mexico's schedule in the run-up to South Africa 2010 is. After England at Wembley, they now get Netherlands in Freiburg, Gambia in Bayreuth and Italy in Brussels, giving them four matches in 11 days, three of them against top-eight-ranked teams in the world.

That's a Mexico thing, too: Play the best. And certainly coach Javier Aguirre is living it. When you play Italy and England and the Dutch, how easy will the Bafana Bafana Bafana seem?

Just makes me smile. This eternal surprise: "Hey, these Mexico dudes are pretty good."

Eventually, people other than gringos and ticos will remember this.

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