Wednesday, May 31, 2006

#18: Los Tricolores


Where? South o' the Border.

How big? Pretty big. Three times larger than Texas. Population is a little less than a third of the US.

Something I didn't know before reading the CIA factbook entry... Lots, actually. I didn't know Mexico had compulsory 1 year military service. Only 12% of the land is arable (drier than I thought). The lack of clean water and deforestation are considered by the Mexican government to be national security issues. As in, they fear uprising because there isn't enough water. That blows my mind. 18% of the population work in agriculture, but only 4% of the GDP is in the Agriculture sector. That seems really confusing, and sort of sad for the farmers. Get this: only Brazil and the US have more airports than Mexico.

Geopolitical significance is quite great. Mexico has one of the world's 15 largest economies, larger than South Korea, Australia, Taiwan. It's got 50% more oil reserves than the US. It's strategically located directly next to the world's superpower. And that border just happens to be the hot button political issue of the day.

Something fun about Mexico? Ask any senior in high school if Mexico is fun. It is, in fact, fun. Look up Salma Hayek on the internet.

Let's get to it...

Mexico are considered one of the top teams in the world, and they're seeded as if they are one. However, their record in World Cups is, in a word, underwhelming. They make the finals most of the time, but they've never advanced past the quarterfinals, and they've only gotten that far with home field advantage. Perhaps no other team has a more undeserved reputation. And if that sounds like the voice of a bitter dude pissed that Mexico gets seeded instead of the USA, well, call a spade a spade. Mexico has fared better in the Copa America.

Probably the main reason for the respect given to Mexico is the way they typically have an easy time of qualifying for the World Cup. It's time we all faced facts: North America just isn't that great at soccer. This time around was no different. Mexico qualified with two games to go, with really only two games going against them, a 1-1 draw in Panama, and a defeat to the USA in Columbus.

One reason I always thought Mexico was overrated was that deference was always given to the Mexican league (one of the few long-standing leagues outside of Europe). And since most Mexican players remained in country, and the league was respected, for some reason, the rest of the world gave undeserved credit. And since Mexican soccer kind of developed on its own, the growth of the game elsewhere, and innovations seen elsewhere, definitely hurt Mexico on the world stage. It may have changed recently, since a few players have gone overseas. Openness can only help Mexico.

The Mexican attack should be strong, if LaVolpe can figure out how to use them all. Jared Borgetti, the first Mexican player in the Premiership, should be the main scoring threat, and he's had success in Europe. Fonseca, Franco, and Bravo are the other options. But the one to watch is in the defense, Rafael Marquez. He's a stalwart in the defense for Barcelona, and leads from the back line.

The draw was not unfavorable for Mexico. Of course, when Mexico is seeded, they'll end up with an easier group. Karma allowed for Portugal drawn with them. Iran and Angola aren't the toughest teams in the tournament, so the commenters probably have plenty of arguments as to why predicting them here is selling them short. But I don't see it. I think Mexico fails to advance, which should piss off a lot of people.

They open against Iran in Nuremburg, which I actually think is the biggest game of the group. Borgetti scores early, but Iran gets a penalty, partially thanks to a loud partisan crowd. They convert it, and the game ends 1-1. Mexico is not happy with the result.

They come out flat, too. Angola scores early, stunning the Mexican side. But they don't give up, equalizing and going ahead with a Bravo goal. 2-1 Mexico, but not a great result, since that draw with Iran still lingers.

Mexico goes into the Portugal match thinking it needs to win to ensure advancement. In the opening minutes, things go awry. Ronaldo scores in the fifth minute, making Mexico panic. A few odd substitutions later, and Mexico levels with a Borgetti header. But the European teams show up in Europe, and Luis Figo doesn't want to go out this early. He scores from a free kick just outside the box with 15 minutes to go. 2-1 Portugal. And like that, Mexico are eliminated. And next time, they don't get that huge benefit of seeding.

A win, a draw and a loss, and it's on home. And the mirage that is Mexico's reputation should finally be seen for what it is - vastly overrated.

If the World Cup were March Madness, Mexico would be... a team from a sub-par conference with a great reputation for some reason, mainly based on repeated appearances. But once they're in the tournament, they just don't show up. Yeah, there have been a few Elite 8 appearances, but look at all the early round bounces: Mexico is Gonzaga.

Yes, I just talked a lot of shit about Mexico. Trust me, I know there's value there.


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