Mexico is going through its worst football crisis since 1981.
Back then, “El Tri” played in Honduras in hope of grabbing one of the two available tickets for Spain 1982. An easy 4-0 win against Cuba gave Mexico its first three points. But then came El Salvador, and Ever Hernandez surprised Mexico at the 81st minute.
Haiti, Canada and Honduras managed to draw with Mexico, and that was enough to see the side finish outside the World Cup qualification places.
The story is not so different 32 years later. The once CONCACAF giant is trying to find a way to turn things around and do better than reaching a playoff against New Zealand, but it is almost impossible.
After three draws and a 2-1 defeat to Honduras at the Estadio Azteca, the Mexican Football Federation sacked Jose Manuel de la Torre. Along came Luis Fernando Tena, his long-time assistant.
In a crucial match against the United States, Tena, who led the U23 squad to two major championships in 2012— the Toulon Tournament and the Olympic Games—was supposed to perform a miracle. It did not happen.
The tragic "Dos a Cero" defeat to the USA proved that the problem is not just the coach. From those in charge of the Mexican Football Federation to several players, this team needs to rebuild itself.
Coach and staff
First things first. The managerial change after losing to Honduras was right. Picking Tena as the interim coach was the savviest thing the Federation could have done. He knows the players and with three days to prepare for a match like the one against the USA, it would have been worse bringing in someone new.
No one should have thought that Tena was some sort of saint. The guy is a good coach and has had great success stories, but this team needs a lot more than that to find a cure.
The defeat against the United States just proves that de la Torre was just one tiny piece of the puzzle. The coaching staff is still the same as when this project started. So a real change is in order and it includes everyone.
Tomas Boy, Miguel Herrera and Victor Manuel Vucetich are the main names in the air. All of them are motivators. Boy has saved more than one Liga MX team from relegation; Vucetich led Monterrey to a couple of Liga MX championships as well as to three CONCACAF Champions League titles; and Herrera gave America their first league trophy in eight years.
Whoever gets the job will have a gigantic task ahead. In the next month Mexico host Panama at the Estadio Azteca, a stadium no longer a serious challenge for visitors.
But another change has to come. The people in charge of the Mexican Football Federation—President Justino Compean, for starters—need to leave.
Last week, when Compean announced Tena as the interim coach, he said in a press conference that he would leave only if Mexico did not advance to the World Cup.
He also said there was no room for error. And now that the team’s qualification hangs by a thread, the least he could do is leave, along with his collaborators.
It is time to clean the house and it starts with the staff.
Carlos Salcido was once an amazing player, a fantastic left-back that later proved to be a very handy defensive midfielder. He is not anymore.
Salcido had a bright 2005 Confederations Cup, a good 2006 World Cup and played in Europe. Somehow he showed some of his magic in the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Olympics, although he was clearly beyond his best.
A year later it is clear that Salcido is not fit. He is slow and cannot compete fairly. He pushes, holds and tackles because it is the only way he can challenge his rivals.
How about Javier Hernandez? Chicharito has to play inside the box, period. He is not a playmaker he cannot just wander around the pitch trying to put something together.
Andres Guardado is no longer the young kid we saw in Germany seven years ago. He lacks physical condition and it has been a long time since he has made a difference on the pitch.
There was a time when all the members of the national team played in Mexico. It was obvious the pride they had in wearing the green jersey.
But how many of the footballers that have been called up for the current qualifying campaign are actually pouring their hearts out?
Have you seen the pride in other teams’ players? Americans, Hondurans, Costa Ricans, Jamaicans, you name it. They love their shirt, they have a commitment and they fulfill it.
It does not matter if they play in Roma, Los Angeles Galaxy, Saprissa, Harbour View or Marathon.
If pride is not a motivator anymore for the Mexico players, then they have to leave the squad. ESPN Deportes reports that if Mexico fails to reach Brazil 2014, $600 million will be lost—the implications go beyond football.
A predictable team is destined to lose. Mexico is in desperate need to find a strategy that combines creativity and depth, but there is not strategy whatsoever.
The players run around the pitch with no idea of what to do when they have the ball and with a lot of urgency.
When they play better it only lasts 45 minutes.
CONCACAF is growing
Granted, it is not UEFA but CONCACAF is getting better by the minute.
In the 2001 qualifying campaign, Mexico won five times, four of them at the Azteca, but this time they have won once, in Jamaica. Honduras beat them in Mexico City and they lost, for the fourth consecutive time, in the United States.
Rivals are learning how to take Mexico out of their comfort zone. In March, Honduras faced Mexico in the afternoon when temperature was as high as 100º F.
The United States have been smart too by playing their games with Mexico in cities that have a low hispanic population.
From the six squads fighting for a ticket to the 2014 World Cup, Mexico has attended to most World Cups, but that has not been reflected in their current campaign:
Mexico's problems have been apparent since February's start to the qualifying campaign, and they have continued in friendly games, the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup.
But Mexico can still qualify directly if Honduras lose or tie their final games and Mexico defeats Panama and Costa Rica. This will secure them third place.
It is a hopeful scenario because Honduras have been playing some good football. So Mexico have to:
A) Defeat Panama, and Panama lose or tie to USA.
B) Tie with Panama, tie with Costa Rica, and Panama lose to USA.
C) Tie with Panama, tie with Costa Rica (must score five goals) and Panama tie with USA.
The question is: can they pull it off? Yes, if the Mexican Football Federation brings a new coaching staff and the players capped for the upcoming games are called for their attributes and skills and not only because they play abroad or have been with the team for a long time.