Sunday, April 5, 2009
What's happened to Mexico?
Let's face it. Few teams around the world have as many fans as the Mexican national team. That is a fact. And I'm talking real, true Mexican-born fans, not the bandwagon fans that Brazil, Argentina and France get along the way to the World Cup. And yet it seems that the Mexican team, all Mexican national teams in fact, are in a constant state of negative flux.
Why is this? The players? The coaches? The team owners? The federation? My take: all and none. All because they have repeatedly failed at achieving important goals like qualifying for the Confederations Cup, the Olympics and the U-20 tournament. Hugo Sanchez was sacked and now Eriksson has been sacked. I'm not an expert in these matters but I've heard and read enough about the squabbling delegates of the Mexican soccer Federation that stalled various plans and included their own pet projects into the system. That last one is Vergara, owner of one of the most financially successful teams on the planet--Chivas de Guadalajara. He insisted on bringing a European name to the coaching vacancy left by Sanchez. He failed at getting Scolari and settled for Eriksson.
Did Vergara's pet project and gamble work? Yes and no. The team played differently and added a few names to the fold--Vuoso, Augusto, etc. Interestingly, some of these players were not Mexican-born. Eriksson also gave a lot of opportunities to youngsters like dos Santos, Martinez and Vela. A welcome sight if sometimes an unnecessary gamble.
Still, Eriksson failed at what he was brought to do. Win tournaments and win every Concacaf game. Let's rewind to last fall for a moment. Mexico was pooled against Canada, Honduras and Jamaica in the second round's group of death. Admittedly, all those teams deserved a spot in the Hexagonal. So when Mexico left the Azteca after getting all 9 points at home and gathered only 1 from a tie in Canada, heads started to shake. Was this so bad? A loss in Kingston, Jamaica. The Reggae Boyz are very good at home against most oponents. Why couldn't Mexico lose? Then there was a tie in Canada. The relative "minnows" of the group still have players with considerable abilities--de Guzman, DeRosario, Onstad are just a few. And finally, a loss in Honduras. 1-0. Was is so bad that they lost against the probable number 3 team in the conference?
Friendlies against Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Sweden were 2 losses and 2 wins on American soil. All of those games included reserves on the roster due to the fact that they were played outside of FIFA dates. Then comes the Hexagonal. An opening match against the US in Columbus and a loss they should have seen coming. The US held their own and made the home soil count. Mexico did the same against Costa Rica last Saturday. It injected "confidence" into the team and coach. Really? Then why the 3-1 loss to Honduras in San Pedro Sula? Because Honduras really is that good. That's my take. Maybe a 2-1 was more deserving for Mexico but that's football.
So who's really to blame here? Eriksson had only a limited amount of time to get used to Mexico, the style of play and other idiosyncrasies of the Azteca game. Mexico was given a tough schedule in the preliminary round and also to start the Hexagonal. If they had started at home vs USA then a visit to El Salvador and at home against T&T things would be different. It was foolish to let him go at this point. Aguirre (in-coming coach and the coach that lost to USA in the 2002 World Cup) may do only what was expected to happen anyway... qualify for South Africa. Can he inject more spirit into the team? Sure. Can he do the same for the fans? Why not. And the federation? They sure hope so. Aguirre is their "savior" and if he doesn't pan out it will be difficult to truly nail down what could be wrong with Mexican play. Too many players abroad that don't care about the national side? Sure, we've all heard that before.
Mexico has quite a few dollars invested commercially in terms of the national team. This is why Sanchez was ousted. Never mind the awesome play the team displayed in the Copa America 2007. Sanchez didn't need to be the u-23 coach. Bradley sure wasn't for the US. That job went to Peter Nowak. Maybe Mexico should have considered that and Sanchez could have had more time with the nats to make things smoother. Then again, Vergara, Martinez and other FMF owners had considerable input in the matter. Is that where the fault lies? The caprice of one or two team owners? I hope not.