Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
COLUMBUS, Ohio — If Mexico was in serious danger and on high alert before Tuesday, it might now be reaching its equivalent of DEFCON 1.
El Tri suffered yet its latest setback in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Tuesday night, losing once again to the U.S. Men’s National Team at Crew Stadium by the all-too-familiar score of 2-0. The result means that Mexico is now likely to finish the Hexagonal, at best, in fourth place, which would pit them against New Zealand in a home-and-home series to determine which nation qualifies for the 2014 World Cup.
“We are all responsible for this,” said Mexico interim head coach Luis Fernando Tena, who was hired for one game on Saturday after Jose Manuel ‘Chepo’ De La Torre was fired. “We’re a team. We win together, we lose together. We all need to assume responsibility and do a strong self-critique and start thinking about the game (in October) against Panama.”
Andres Guardado was even more candid in his postgame conversations with the media. The 26-year-old midfielder, who struggled to make an impact vs. the U.S., spoke about El Tri’s frail mentality and needing to fix that if they are to avert the once-unimaginable tragedy of failing to reach a World Cup.
“I don’t think we have the ability to react,” said Guardado, referencing Eddie Johnson’s game-winning goal in the 49th minute. “Unfortunately, us players are completely to blame. We cannot put our heads down, even after we get scored on and especially when there is so much time left in the second half.
“That was the key to today’s game. In the first half, we didn’t play bad at all, but with everything that is going on, your mind sometimes plays tricks on you. We don’t have confidence, we don’t have the ability to react and lift the spirit. It’s the reality of things.”
Guardado added that the Mexican players are unified as a team, but that still does not change the fact that El Tri are currently in a dire position. Mexico sit in fifth place in the Hexagonal standings behind Panama, who will visit Estadio Azteca in the two teams’ next match on October 11.
That should favor Mexico considering how strong it usually is at home, but this round of qualifying has been anything but typical for an El Tri side that is feeling the pressure after going 1-5-2 and winless at home.
“This is the reality of things,” said Guardado. “Each of us need to do a complete self-critique, head back to our club teams, clear ours heads a little bit and return in October if we are called back in, and know that we are playing for our lives in these next two games.”
Whether Mexico does that with Tena still at the helm remains to be seen. Tena said he has not yet made a decision on if he would like to stick around beyond Tuesday night’s game against the United States, who he had plenty of praise for and whose size, particularly on set pieces, was the reason why he inserted some taller players into his lineup.
What Tena is certain of is that Mexico has players with the necessary quality and character to turn this catastrophic campaign around before it is too late.
“The players have shown many times their quality, personality, character in several competitions,” said Tena. “The players have given their all, fought, run. We have no complaints about that. Yes, we showed some desperation at the end when we were losing, which leads to disorganization that the opponents took advantage of.
“But I think the players always have shown the effort and fight, and it’s obvious that the quality has been demonstrated quite often as well as the character and personality.”
Another coaching change could come before now and October, but that is not guaranteed to solve Mexico’s laundry list of problems, problems that have Mexican fans and media sharpening their knives and pitchforks.
“This is very embarrassing for us, very embarrassing,” said Guardado when asked what he would like to tell El Tri’s angered fanbase. “We haven’t been able to represent the Mexican jersey in the manner in which it should be represented and that’s it. There’s not much else to say to them. They have their way to judge us and it’s very respectable, because, truthfully, we don’t deserve it.”
El Tri may sound like a team whose psyche is beyond repair, but a win at home over Panama next month is all that could be needed for Mexico to salvage their World Cup dreams.
Accomplishing that probably won’t be easy for El Tri, nothing in this round has been. But it’s not impossible, not as long as they make a serious attempt at avoiding to dwell on a past that is unchangeable and thinking more about a future that isn’t.
“When things don’t go well, when you enter such a negative dynamic like the one we’re in, sometimes you need a a magic wand in order to change things,” said Guardado. “We know that magic wand is not going arrive. It has to be us that react to change this and qualify for the World Cup.
“We are the ones stuck in this problem and no one is going to come save us, so we need to clears our heads and be conscious of what we’re playing for, because at times it looks like we don’t know what we’re playing for, which is a World Cup. Panama is our last chance to try and get to the World Cup and we need to focus on that.”