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Mexico soccer fans bitter to be bested by U.S.

From the archive: This story is more than 10 years old.

Mexico soccer fans bitter to be bested by U.S.

Mexico doesn't have much of a shot at going far in World Cup, but fans would like redemption

  • Willamor Media/Flickr

The familiar rituals will be played out. President Felipe Calderon will don a team shirt and lead the singing of “Cielito Lindo,” the mariachi song that has become Mexico’s favorite soccer chant. While the entire nation will, for the moment, set aside deep and harsh differences to cheer El Tricolor, the embrace of the national team seems more reflexive than heartfelt these days.

Mexico once believed it would rise to become the third Latin American power alongside Brazil and Argentina. But by now, its fans recognize that it is a pretender, doomed to disappoint. Worst of all is that Mexico has been supplanted by its bigger, richer, more powerful neighbor to the north, where they don’t even care about the game, as the region’s top soccer power.

Fans blame poor management, selfish play and bad luck, and the resultant pressure on the players almost assures the failure is self-perpetuating. Mexico is a nation under siege from a weak economy, murderous drug cartels, endemic corruption and immigration battles with the United States. Soccer, even the World Cup, offers at best a brief distraction, and, likely, more disappointment.

Mexico World Cup History: A weak region assures that Mexico is always there. But it has only reached the quarterfinals twice — and both times when it hosted the tournament. Its most ignominious defeat came in the 2002 World Cup round of 16 when it was thrashed 2-0 by the United States.

Mexico World Cup Schedule: June 11 - South Africa; June 17 - France; June 22 - Uruguay.

Conventional Wisdom: Mexico got a break when it was drawn into the South African group. But not so much of a break after it drew the opening game of the tournament when the home side and its fans should be at their most buoyant. Mexico tends to play badly on the road and South Africa looms as a hard road.

Mexico World Cup Team Coach: Javier Aguirre

Mexico was stumbling through qualification, giving every appearance of a team that might not make it to South Africa, when Aguirre was rehired. He presided over the 2002 World Cup team that lost to the United States. But he has a commanding presence and is capable of bullying the Mexican players into line. He is now credited with a successful rescue mission as the Mexican team settled down and finished qualifying comfortably in what is an uncomfortable place — second behind the United States.

Mexico World Cup Team Strength: Mexico’s two best players are its last line of defense: Rafael Marquez, the veteran central defender who can be a stopper and can launch attacks; and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, whose confidence and athleticism in the nets could prove a difference-maker.

Mexico World Cup Team Weakness: The offense may ultimately depend on some talented young players who are inconsistent and still unproven on a big stage.

Mexico World Cup Key Player: Giovani Dos Santos

It is a lot to ask of a 21-year-old to ignite the offence. And even more when he is distressed and threatening to quite after his brother was dropped from the squad. But Dos Santos has been igniting excitement since 2005 when he assisted on half of Mexico’s goals as it won the U-17 World Cup. He was runner-up as player of the tournament to Anderson, a Brazilian who now patrols the midfield for Manchester United. But though Dos Santos was signed to a rich deal with Tottenham, he has been unable to command playing time and has been lent out each of the past two seasons. Still, Mexican fans recall him as MVP of the 2009 Gold Cup tourney, where Mexico hammered the U.S. in the final.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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