Flaming burritos. Who knew that Mexican footballing politics was such an interesting beast?
There is a real chance that the inter-continental World Cup play-off won’t live up to anything like the excitement of the build-up.
For months we have been keeping an eye on the CONCACAF qualification pool in general, and increasingly the progress of Mexico in particular.
Before it started it was assumed that the All Whites would come up against the likes of Honduras or Panama for this match-up. After all, you could pretty much guarantee the top two slots would go to USA and Mexico.
Slowly but surely it didn’t happen that way. Mexico kept on drawing 0-0 at the Azteca against sides they were expected to put away. And in early September they lost at home for only the second time ever in a World Cup qualifying match. And it was against Honduras, meaning they were officially knee deep in it.
As it turned out they were three minutes away from being eliminated altogether. On the last day of pool play they lost to Costa Rica. In Panama City they hosts were 1-0 up against Team Soccerball USA!!!, at which stage Mexico would have been fifth and out. But the Americans scored two goals in stoppage time, and the Mexicans were thrown a lifeline.
As an aside, much is made on ESPN and elsewhere about the Fierce Rivalry that exists between Team Soccerball USA!!! and Mexico. True fierce rivals don’t score two late goals in a dead rubber for them to help out their fierce rival.
Mexico celebrated this milestone by sacking its fourth coach in two months; bringing in Miguel Herrera on loan from his Mexican club side América. And it would appear Senor Herrera has his own way of doing things.
He has picked his squad for the first leg of the play-offs against New Zealand entirely from Mexican based players. In these days of the global game this is simply extraordinary.
And we’re not talking about a bunch of journeymen knocking around in Europe; these are the star players. The omitted players best known to New Zealanders are Javier Hernández; the first Mexican to play for Manchester United and Giovani dos Santos; formerly of Tottenham.
But the best way of working out the impact of this is to look at the clubs these players represent. They are Real Sociedad, Manchester United, Espanyol, Villareal, Ajaccio (France), FC Porto, and Valencia.
By contrast, Rory Fallon is currently with St. Johnstone (Scotland) and Chris Killen is with Chongqing (China)
So is Herrera bonkers, overly parochial, arrogant, or a complete genius?
The only one of those you can be certain of is that he’s parochial. The arrogance question will never be answered but had the balls been pulled out differently at FIFA Towers a couple of years ago and this match ended up being against Uruguay, you have to wonder whether the call would have been the same.
He has cited the argument that travel makes it harder to prepare for a match, but Spain to Mexico is not a particularly arduous trip. You do wonder whether Mexico’s poor form in getting this far was due to clashing egos, and this is one way of taking a sledgehammer to that problem.
And perhaps he thinks the 90,000 home crowd will get in behind a bunch of Young Guns a bit more, in order to maximise that home advantage.
Traditionally, it is the scoring of goals that tends to work the best there. Roll on November 15 (NZT)