The match, which will be broadcast live on mun2, Telemundo, and the Futbol de Primera Radio Networks, kicks off at 3 p.m. CT from the famed Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Additionally, ESPN will provide unprecedented studio coverage, highlighted by a 30-minute SportsCenter 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifying Special from outside Estadio Azteca beginning at 2:30 p.m. CT.
- The U.S. holds a lifetime record of 0-22-1 on Mexican soil, the lone result a 0-0 draw on Nov. 2, 1997, in Mexico City.
- Since the rivalry between these two teams began in earnest in 1990, the sides have played 29 times, with the U.S. holding a 13-8-8 advantage. Five of those games have been played in Mexico – all in Mexico City – with the U.S. posting a 0-4-1 record. Two of those games were played at neutral sites, with the U.S. posting a 2-0 win at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea Republic and prevailing 4-1 in penalties after a 0-0 draw at the 1995 Copa America in Uruguay.
I shall highlight four factors that will prove decisive:
The impregnable fortress of the Estadio Azteca
“We lost the 1986 (FIFA World Cup) Final in the Estadio Azteca which, in my opinion, is the most beautiful stadium in the world. I love it, simple as that. It will go down forever as the greatest footballing symbol there is, even though there are other footballing temples scattered around the world.”
Rudi Voller, former Germany forward
The Estadio Azteca is the mother of all stadiums, a historic structure that can seat 105,000 fans. It saw Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal, the “Goal of the Century”, and the “Game of the Century” in which Italy beat Germany in the 1986 World Cup semi-finals, 4-3 in extra time.
Since the rivalry began in earnest in 1990, the US has played Mexico at the Azteca five times for a 0-4-1 record. Goals have been particularly hard to come by with Eddie Lewis goal in a 2-1 loss on March 27, 2005, the first since 1984 on Mexican soil. Mexico has only lost one World Cup qualifier at the Azteca, falling to Costa Rica 2-1 on June 16, 2001. Mexico took a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute, but Costa Rica scored in the 72nd and 86th minutes for the victory.
The cavernous stadium located 7,400 feet above sea level with more than 100,000 fans using their vocal chords, drums, horns, banners, face paint, flares, can be a disorienting place for the opposition. It maybe the most effective 12th man for the Mexicans. As Bruce Arena describes it:
“The conditions at Azteca are difficult. You have around 100,000 people. The stadium is massive. The sightlines are real difficult for players. There are literally probably 20 yards from the touchline to the dugouts. You see that and the field looks like you’re out in the country.
“Then you start dealing with the heat and the altitude and it gets to your head. Not only your head. The physiology is difficult. I remember games where we had oxygen at halftime. It’s hard. It’s an awesome home-field advantage.”
The Estadio Azteca is the best friend that El Tri can hope to have.
The wrath of Aguirre
It takes one match to change the perspective on a rivalry that has been as one sided in recent times and Javier Aguirre did it with Mexico dismantling the USA thoroughly, 5-0 in the Gold Cup final. The loss ended a 9-0-2 streak dating back to 1999. Critics might argue that it was a second and even third string US team that suffered such a loss but in such events, perception is key.
A psychological leg up is what Mexico needed and that is what they achieved. No one remembers the personnel, it is the results that are bandied about in the message boards and the team lockers. The US team arrived to chants of “cinco, cinco, cinco” from Mexican fans, in reference to El Tri’s 5-0 win
What Aguirre has done in a short while is instill a pragmatic spirit in a team that has talented individuals who have not come together in the past. Mexican soccer has always suffered from the most impractical distractions. In the past, naturalized players on the national squad have riven the fiercely nationalistic soccer establishment.
Guillermo Franco who scored the equalizing goal against Costa Rica in the Gold Cup semi-final and then added another in the 5-0 blowout against the USA is Argentinian born. His selection to the 2006 World Cup sparked a furor against then coach Ricardo La Volpe. Critics felt that Cuauhtemoc Blanco and striker Adolfo Bautista were being sacrificed to these foreign born players. Now, the controversy has largely died down and Franco’s services as a super sub have been utilized without any eyebrows being raised.
Aguirre’s sideline antics have also raised the temperature a notch or two. He has not been charitable in his description of the US team and has downplayed the one sided history in recent times.
“they live off opponents’ errors, and stack eight in the back and use the clock in their favor”
Now he relishes the prospects of taking them on their home turf.
“When we play against them,” he added, “they take us up north, to the cold, where there are few Mexicans,. Now we’re back home with our fans, and 100 percent Mexican flags in the stands — our people, our passion and conditions that suit us.”
Aguirre’s ornery spirit is what a team like El Tri need after the cool demeanour of Sven Goran Ericksson and they are responding to him.
Mexican midfield control and ground game
Mexico will dominate ball possession. The Gold Cup saw the birth of Giovani Dos Santos and his busy motoring legs. Dos Santos has replaced Blanco as the most popular player in Mexico. Like one time Barca team mate Leo Messi, Dos Santos likes to run wide on the right wing and cut in controlling the ball with his favoured left foot. He is a classic pibe with a low center of gravity which makes his swerves, feints, crossovers very effective in tight spaces since he needs smaller translations.
Dos Santos has also become adept at distributing the ball especially picking out fellow English leaguer Carlos Vela who should see second half action today. Gerardo Torrado picks up the ball deep in midfield and relays it to either Dos Santos or Albert Medina, the latter who can play on either wing and overlaps with Dos Santos. Then there is Andres Guardado, the speedy left winger who likes playing wide, creating space and drawing defenders to him, enough for full back Carlos Salcido to overlap and relay the ball to Vela or Sabah.
US counterattacks, set pieces, and aerial ability
If Mexico is all about the ground game, the USA will execute through the air and snappy counterattacks through speedy Donovan and Charlie Davis. They will have to make their briefer possession count. With Altidore at the head of the attack they can stretch out the Mexican defense and create enough scoring opportunities between the three of them. The Mexicans give up inches to the central defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra who will be big in the box. The US should preserve one of their strengths, their effective shots on goal to goals scored ratio. They have proven to be excellent sharpshooters. Picking up Dempsey through crosses and hoping what he seems to do best, taking advantage of a missed clearance, a fumble, or a rebound and score goals.
The US should go all out for an early goal. So they need to turn on the jets and create enough chances to get the crowd out of the game. If a goal is possible, it then amounts to retaining enough possession which the US failed to do against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final. It might prove a bit easier against Mexico should they go a goal up.
In the end though, home field advantage will prove decisive.
My prediction: Mexico 2 USA 1