You know the story by now. As the seconds drained away in Costa Rica and Panama, Mexico had completed their final and ultimate capitulation: Needing just a point to seal a playoff berth, El Tri — under their third manager in three months — were losing 2-1 in the rain against a Costa Rica side with nothing to play for. Meanwhile, their rival for the last playoff spot, Panama, secured a dramatic late winner over the United States with just minutes to go in the game.
Oh the dread, Mexico, that soccer mad nation, must have felt watching the clock run down. Somehow, through all their horror shows and setbacks, the feeling that El Tri would make it to the World Cup in the end hadn’t wavered. Now, the end stared them in the face. That was until Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored two late goals for the United States, to bail Mexico out.
Just four days earlier, adidas unveiled Mexico’s World Cup kit early, figuring that the side may never be able to wear it in the Finals. Mexico’s home World Cup kit is a cash cow for the sportswear company, just as the World Cup is a cash cow for the country: Estimates are that the Mexican economy will gain $600 million dollars through their team qualifying.
In that Friday night game at the Azteca against Panama, a miracle of a bicycle kick from late substitute Raul Jimenez rescued Mexico’s World Cup dream. It reduced international superstar Javier Hernandez of Manchester United to unrelenting and uncontrollable tears at the final whistle.
That is the pressure of reaching the World Cup. It means so much to so many, it’s impossible to quantify within the realm of sport. There is so much pride, so much expectation, so much eager anticipation that failure and success both reduce many of the most famous and hardened footballers in the world to tears.
Some players aren’t famous at all outside of their home countries or clubs; some are just tasting the biggest and best stage for the first time.
Iceland qualified for the European playoffs for the first time Tuesday, and one percent of the entire country traveled to Norway and stayed in the stadium well past the final whistle to see their side clinch.
Literally from nowhere, Iceland would be the smallest ever country to make the World Cup Finals.
In Iceland, the men made the stage. In Egypt, the stage made the men, and then undid them.