This blog post is long overdue. My distinct hope was that Mexico WOULD NOT qualify for South Africa, and this article which is sure to arouse controversy would not need to be written. With Mexico’s qualification secure, the time has come to discuss how exactly El Tri returned to the World Cup. I write this with a clean conscience, largely because the national team that has been the biggest victim of Mexican diving, and CONCACAF officials indulgence of cheating is Honduras, who somehow still managed to qualify for the World Cup. So any bitterness on my part (because as our readers and my twitter followers do know, I’ve wanted Honduras to qualify very badly this entire cycle) is not the reason this article has been posted. It is because I believe if the issue of Mexican favortism in CONCACAF and cheating is not discussed, I am not doing my job to call it as I see it.
The final record will state that Mexico qualified for the 2010 World Cup and Costa Rica did not. (This is baring an unexpected Ticos win in the CONCACAF-COMNEBOL playoff.) But few will recall that Mexico’s passage to the Hexagonal and success in the Hex owed itself largely to unsporting play, and the failure of CONCACAF’s officials to fairly referee games in the qualifying cycle.
Mexico should have been eliminated in the semifinal round of qualifying. At Estadio Azteca in August 2008, against Honduras, CONCACAF’s best and brightest officials took a 1-0 Honduras lead and made it into a 2-1 Mexican victory based on two blatant dives and frivolous sending off for Honduras.
Cuauhtémoc Blanco, one of the least sporting players on the planet (and one that sadly plays on our own domestic league) appeared to have talked the officials into one of the calls after his team mate, Gio Dos Santos fell to the ground, and the other call was made, when Blanco himself hit the deck all too easily.
Mexico, later benefited from a clear dive by Andres Guardado versus Jamaica at home, and then survived to draw with Canada after two Canadian shots hit the post, and a clear Free kick shout for Paul Stalteri, was not given.
When it was all said and done, Mexico ended tied for second with Jamaica but won passage to the Hex on goal difference. CONCACAF can be questioned for this, because from an economic standpoint, Jack Warner and his allies probably preferred a Mexican team that is solid attendance draw in both qualifying and Gold Cup to a Jamaican side which represents a small, anglicized Caribbean Island. (Although it should be noted that Warner’s original election as head of CONCACAF was backed by Jamaica and not Mexico, but then again Sepp Blatter was originally backed as FIFA President by England.)
Mexico constantly getting calls was a combination of the cheating nature of Blanco and company, simple economic considerations, and the intimidation officials feel at Azteca. It also could have been due to the number of Latin officials that were assigned to Mexico’s games against non-Spanish speaking countries. CONCACAF without Mexico, is in terms of power like Oceania was before Australia left. The prospect of Mexico being eliminated at an early stage of qualifying must have shook Jack Warner tremendously.
Jamaica, by comparison seemed to not benefit from the officials whistle. But why should they? Jamaican players are much less apt to dive than Mexican ones, often trying to finish their runs on the ball when taken down.
Mexico then struggled at the beginning of the end of the semifinal round and beginning of the Hex, while Blanco was “retired” from National Team duty. Five loses in six qualifiers saw Sven Goran Eriksson fired, and replaced by Javier Aguirre.
In Sven Goran Eriksson’s last two matches and under Aguirre, Mexico has earned nine PK calls in just fifteen competitive matches, a stunning ratio by any standard. Have most of these PK’s been justified? Perhaps (though unlikely), but it is still hard to believe a national team could earn a PK in every other competitive match it played. This strecth of matches included three which Javier Aguirre was suspended from, thanks to his inexplicable decision to punch former Revoltuion midfield Ricardo Phillips versus Panama.
When the English codified the rules for Football, little did they imagine that unsporting cheats like Blanco would eventually reign supreme in the sport. Nor did they imagine that the entire culture around Mexican Football would take on an encouragement, and even congratulation for cheating. It seems that in some cultures, dynamic play is encouraged, while in Mexican Football, putting one past the official is rewarded.
Does any reader of this website forget the celebration Giovanni Dos Santos engaged in after diving to draw a penalty kick versus the United States in the Gold Cup Final? Nor should anyone forget the cries of pain two Mexican players who tripped over one another attempted to demonstrate when they tripped over one another in Honduran 18’ drawing a frivolous PK, earlier in qualifying.
In the Gold Cup, Mexico’s Albert Medina tripped over his own feet and drew a PK versus Nicaragua. All of these actions and those chronicled above were rewarded by CONCACAF officials. Mexico’s newest generation of players seemed to have learned from Blanco, that it is wiser to cheat than to actually fight and succeed.
I understand that MLS is a business much like CONCACAF itself (even if it claims not to be), but watching a person like Blanco, who so clearly skirts the rules of the game and calls football into disrepute by his actions on the pitch is not helping to grow the game in the US. Blanco makes me and should make all those who believe in the integrity of the sport want to cheer against the Chicago Fire. The shirtgate scandal where Blanco handed Jair Marufo his jersey after Marufo had given the Fire, Mexican like officials treatment versus Columbus earlier this year should have come as no surprise to those watch football throughout this region.
The behavior of Blanco and other Mexican players has a dramatic affect on potential fans in the US: we are a culture that encourages hard work and rewards effort. Our players, for the most part do not dive and do not attempt to coax the match officials into making calls. We are an honest people, and with our triumph in the Hex, and honest culture has one over a dishonest one (Mexican Football).
Much like the English, who for years played about the most honest brand of football imaginable, staying true to the roots of the game, a foreign invasion of players, begins to undermine the integrity of what MLS (or USL) can or should be. It’s not just the integrity of the game that gets hurt, but the willingness of average American sports fans to understand and appreciate it. Obviously, foreign players must be brought stateside to grow the game and culture of the game. But dishonest players like Blanco, undermine the cause. The Marufo incident just serves to further that perception.
The Mexican style of Football, best exemplified by Blanco, will never sell among middle class or working class American families. What’s worse is MLS, led by its marketing arm SUM has a vested interest in promoting El Tri and selling Mexico’s side to the American public. It has been said that MLS thrives largely due to the Mexican National Team: while this may be a slight exaggeration, it is not totally off base.
This post is not meant to take away from Mexico’s stellar play of late. Wednesday’s draw with T&T was down to Javier Aguirre’s decision to play a largely reserve side. But Mexico should not have even been in the match to begin with, and even had Mexico advanced to the Hex legitimately, they should not have had 18 points entering the final round of fixtures.
Interestingly, the FMF tried to get this match moved to Los Angeles, per my sources by buying out the T&T Federation, but were rejected by the USSF. Thankfully, the potential cash cow qualifier did not take place.
American football fans should reject the enemy within that encourages the FMF and SUM to continue to develop the sport in a way that contradicts our national fabric. Supporting players like Blanco, and his cheating ways only serves to undermine the vast potential the sport enjoys at home.
Mexico enters the World Cup in 2010 with a strong side. Gio Dos Santos, and Carlos Vela have come of age, while Aguirre has found a good cast of supporting players. It should also be noted, that I enjoy the Mexican League and admire the talents of many a player in the Mexican player pool: I pride myself on knowing about and covering this national team as well, as I possibly can as they are the chief rival of the US.But, unlike some national teams in UEFA and COMNEBOL that went through rough patches and couldn’t recover, Mexico was given assistance to recover from the doldrums in CONCACAF. From my vantage point, that plain stinks.