First, there is this guy, Javier Aguirre. Fifty-one years old. At the beginning of the qualifying games, Mexico's coach was a guy named Sven-Göran Eriksson, who had formerly coached in England. Whose idea was it to put a man with a name like that in the position of head coach of the Mexican team? Needless to say, they were in big trouble and realized it. Eriksson was let go and Aguirre named as head coach. The team lost his first qualifying game. They then improved with each of the following games with the big win coming AT Costa Rica.
See, the thing is that there is always a concern about Mexico's ability to win on the road without the great advantage of playing way up in the air at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Therefore, one of the measuring sticks of any coach here is the ability of his team to win games away. And may God have mercy on any coach whose team loses at home.
That Costa Rica game made Aguirre a savior-like figure. He now does public service announcements on television explaining proper moral behavior to Mexicans. You know, love thy neighbor as thyself, and that sort of thing. The strange thing is that Mexicans seem to take this seriously.
I like the guy though. He is human. Last year during a CONCACAF Gold Cup game against Panama, Aguirre kicked at a Panamanian player when that player was out of bounds trying to retrieve the ball—exactly the same sort of conduct that got Woody Hayes fired as the Ohio State football coach years ago. It was ugly. He got away with only a three-game suspension because nobody likes Panamanians anyway except a small minority of other Panamanians.
Still, he generally projects a Vince Lambardi-like, disciplined personality with this endearing little streak of kindness thrown in. As a result, he is able to maintain good relations with his players. These fútbol players are all prima donnas to a greater or lesser extent. It is a very common thing for players simply to pick up and leave a team after a disagreement with a coach. This has not happened with him, and all indications are that his players like him while at the same time respecting him. He is a cool guy, by which I mean nothing other than his people are willing to play hard for him.
I have never mentioned Rafael Márquez before. Surprise, surprise. He is a defender. This guy is critical to Mexico's performance, however. He normally plays for Barcelona, I think. The problem is that he is currently hurt. And he quite often is hurt. That is his downside. Mexico truly does need him to heal up quickly.
His reputation rests not only on his ability to defend. He also has a great talent for making the the first pass from way back in the field that sets up potential scoring plays.
So that brings me to the two players about whom I have written before.
Giovani Dos Santos is 21 years old and a pure athlete. He is a gazelle, as they say. Very graceful. From my own perspective and based upon the admittedly very few games that I have watched, the most striking thing about him is his ability to accelerate from a standing start. I would love to know how fast he can run the 100 meters. No, the 40 rather. He just blows by people. He is very, very entertaining to watch.
He has had a mediocre career in Europe sitting on the bench in Barcelona (which is no disgrace) and then not doing much with Tottenham in England. I think he now still plays there in England with Ipswich Town. Sooner or later though, mark my words. . .
Great athleticism in a young player is not inevitably married to great intelligence. I am not talking about his IQ. I am talking about game sense. The problem with pure athletes like this in any game is that they are so physically skilled that they are able to cover up their mental mistakes in games at a lower level with their speed or strength or agility or whatever. So they do not learn the mental part of the game or more accurately, learn it imperfectly. When they reach the top level of whatever game they play, the opposition can make them look foolish when they make a mistake because the opposition has suddenly become very good at what they do.
All I am saying is that young Giovani must avoid going brain dead at critical moments in these World Cup games.
Cuauhtémoc Blanco, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Cuauhtémoc is named after the great Aztec ruler of their capitol and nephew of the emperor Moctezuma, a legend in Mexico. I am not going to tell the whole story of the original Cuauhtémoc here. Suffice it to say that he was ultimately tortured by the conquistadores, who wanted him to reveal the location of the great Aztec treasure. They put his feet in a fire, but he did not talk. How appropriate for reasons I will explain.
Cuauhtémoc Blanco is 37 years old. He also plays for my son's favorite team, the Chicago Fire. His picture is plastered up on billboards all over Chicago. He is such an endearing player because of his work ethic, about which I wrote at length before.
The problem is that he is old. He really cannot run up and down a fútbol field for an entire game anymore, at least 5,400 seconds in all. Neither could I, and that is one big reason that I love him. Consequently, he is often saved and put into the game later. In contrast to Giovani, Cuauhtémoc is the wise old man who perfectly understands the game and has a preternatural ability to see the pass that will result in a scoring opportunity.
The opposition's response when Cuauhtémoc enters the game is a pretty standard one. They put two players on him, one of whom is usually a hatchet man, and beat him up. It is that simple. He is not a big man, five feet and ten inches, 160 pounds. Cuauhtémoc quite often ends up bleeding. First, they want to wear him down as quickly as possible. Second, and while doing that, they want to impede his ability to make the great pass. As one watches this happen and at the same time watches him continue to work, work, work at his job, one cannot help but get caught up in it all.
I was delighted with an interview of Cuauhtémoc's long time girlfriend on Mexican television this morning, however. (Don't ask me how long a time. Let us just say more than a month.) I have forgotten her name already, but she is you-can-leave-your-hat-on beautiful. She explained that they have been forbidden to have sex for the duration of the World Cup competition.
Apparently, as I understood it, they can hold each other, but they must not go all the way until this thing is over with . . . over with for Mexico, that is. They can go at it again as soon as Mexico is eliminated even if that is before the championship game is played. Just to clarify that part of the team rule . . . which frankly, is the part of the rule that worries me a little.
She seemed appropriately serious about this, and I have high hopes that she can refrain from flagrantly tempting old Cuauhtémoc. This was heartening. I was somewhat skeptical a few days ago when I first heard about this rule being imposed on the team. It struck me as an anachronistic approach left over from the golden years of boxing. Then I saw this woman for the first time. Now, I think that the rule is a really good idea. Cuauhtémoc must conserve everything he has for the field . . . or the "pitch," as I have taken to calling it.
This is Cuauhtémoc's former girlfriend. Obviously, I would not have as much faith in this woman in the current exigent circumstances. She does not look like a team player--in the sense that I am using the phrase--to me.
I will write about the great and cocky Guillermo Ochoa, the goal keeper, some other time. Thinking about what Cuauhtémoc is going to face on all fronts in this World Cup has me tired out.
Mexico has never in history survived beyond the second round in this competition nor are they expected to do so this time. My son says that Mexico's national team traditionally has a bad attitude. I don't know. Complaining about fútbol players' attitudes strikes me as comparable to complaining about the fact that the sun always rises in the east.
We shall see. I like the way they play together, but I have not purchased a copy of one of those new, beautiful, black, away jerseys . . . yet.
I have chosen my venue, and La Mexicana has made reservations for 9:00 a.m. this Friday. Mexico versus the host team, South Africa. The opening game of the World Cup over breakfast in the middle of a bunch of Mexican nut cases. A joint up town called Los Milagros, "The Miracles."