Renewing Acquaintances

When it comes to World Cups, an England-Germany match-up evokes a lot of memories for the English: a really good one, of course, and then a whole bunch of nightmares. The bad dream started in Leon in 1970, and England have yet to wake up, including last summer’s beatdown in Bloemfontein, and the loss earlier this week in the U17 quarterfinals in Morelia.

Needless to say, England isn’t the only team upon which the ze Germans enjoy futbol hegemony. Mexico is right there with them, only Mexico fans do not have a World Cup trophy to provide solace like the English do.

Fans of Mexico have yet to break their German spell. It started in the cruelest of fashions. Mexico was one of Germany’s group mates in Argentina ’78. It was no contest. The Germans won 6-0 and scored their third off a Mexico free kick (Rummenigge blocked an indirect free kick and broke from the German defensive third).

8 years later, the two met again. This time in Monterrey for a World Cup quarterfinal. There would be no vulgar score line here. In fact there was no scoring at all. Mexico had a goal disallowed, and Javier Aguirre also hit the crossbar. The game went to penalties, and, well, I think we know what happened after that. The lasting memory for me, at least, was the sportsmanship display by one Harald Schumacher.

The German keeper had been cast as villain ever since his unspeakably brutal challenge on France’s Patrick Battiston four year’s earlier in Sevilla. It went unpunished; no foul, no card, nothing. Battiston went to the hospital. Schumacher became the most hated man in France.

In the Monterrey heat, though, it was Schumacher who helped Hugo Sanchez stretch his legs because of cramps. If only his act of charity would have spread to the penalties. The Germans won 4-1 from the spot as Schumacher denied Mexico a chance at the semis.

Montpelier was the scene for the next confrontation – a Round of 16 match-up in France 98. This time, Mexico scored first. It took a while to set in. Mexico was beating Germany. Of course, it didn’t last, thanks to Klinsy, Bierhoff and some critical misses by the Mexican forwards. It was hard to take, and it certainly didn’t help that Fernando Fiore came back from break yelling “stop crying.”

I didn’t.

Mexico and Germany meet again, this time in the oppressive heat of Torreon, with a ticket to the U17 finals at stake. The Germans have been a machine (how often do we have to say that?): they steamrolled through their group, the Yanks, and, of course, the English. Mexico have not been as dominant, but have more than held their own, including a clutch win over the French earlier this week in Pachuca.

Can this group of players, led by the talented Carlos Fierro (whose proverbial cracker was the game winner vs. France) do what so many before them have failed to do? Will the many axioms in the world of futbol that end with …and the Germans always win be disproved?

An added incentive for the muchachos is that the final will be played at the Azteca, which will provide them with 200,000 lungs of support.

But they have to get past the Germans first, which is no small task. Ask the English, the Americans, the Mexicans….