Here's a fun quirk of Estadio Azteca: U.S. and international television stations film from one side, Mexican from the other. This lets them sell advertising on the boards around the field in two different languages.
I watched the latest game there, a 5-1 win for Mexico over New Zealand in a World Cup qualifier, on two screens. One showed the Televisa feed. Above it was Univision. That meant that when Mexico attacked to the left on one, the same play progressed to the right on the other. It gave the game a dizzying, surreal texture, like trying to rub your belly and pat your head at the same time.
Even without the two feeds, this game was weird. For one, New Zealand, called the All Whites, wore all black. Another: the Kiwis called up more European-based players than Mexico.
New El Tri coach Miguel Herrera spurned his entire overseas contingent, including Manchester United striker Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, in favor of all-Liga MX group. The decision wasn't as absurd as it might have been a few years ago, with a solid core of the starters now based domestically, but it still felt odd. Players like Chicharito and Andres Guardado have headlined the team for years now, so this team sheet read like it belonged to some other side.
It might as well have. Club America contributed seven to the starting XI. Herrera is still the America coach, on loan to make sure Mexico progresses to the World Cup, and cited his players' familiarity as essential when building a team on such short notice. Herrera is Mexico's fourth coach in two months, and this is just his second game.
(A quick explanation about Herrera's situation. Televisa owns Club America as well as the World Cup broadcasting rights in Mexico and the United States. If Mexico doesn't qualify, it stands to lose a number at least six figures long. Central Deportiva claims that El Tri's qualification is worth $1 billion to the Mexican economy overall, which is likely an inflated figure, but you get the drift.)
Outside Azteca, someone had the clever idea to sell the new Mexico jersey except with the Club America colors splashed across the chest.
On the field, the Chicharito-less squad spurned a couple good scoring chances to begin the early-afternoon match, but it didn't matter. El Tri took a five goal lead before allowing an odd, muted consolation. Mexico fans can now safely purchase tickets to the Brazil 2014.
That Mexico is even in the position of having to win a playoff match is an oddity. The last time it failed to qualify from CONCACAF was 1982. It took a freak run of abysmal form and head-scratching circumstances to land Mexico in a playoff.
Mexico has been to the World Cup more times (14) than any nation yet to win it. In a poll by Gabinete de Comunicacion, only 56 percent believed El Tri would qualify this year. That's how bad it had gotten. But Herrera bullishly maintained his team would make it before the game. “Mexico is Mexico,” was his explanation.
"Of course we are going to the World Cup," said Herrera. "With all due respect, it's only New Zealand. We are not talking about Panama or Honduras. We are not going to lose to New Zealand."
They didn't. At least that part was simple.
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