Going to Extremes

This past weekend worked out real well for me, logistics wise. I was in Houston for College Football, and it turned out that Houston was going to be the place where Guyana would host Mexico in their World Cup Qualifying match.

The media demand was so overwhelming, that I was unable to get a press pass for the game to be played at the shiny new BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. The PR staff, was very accommodating, though, as they made it easy for me to attend the match. Thanks very much.

The media exigency was in stark contrast to the fan support. It would be polite to say that stadium was half full. Very polite. It would also be safe to say that the promoter who promised Guyana a big payout may have oversold it just a bit. It did not help that tickets started at $70. That's a lot of samolians for a glorified friendly, especially in a town that has gotten used to seeing Mexico play more important games. Savvy Houston Tri fans know a fleecing when they see one, and most stayed away.

The fans that did attend were still quite vocal, and for the first 75 minutes of the match, they were active participants in the most Mexican of practices: hating on successful people, and taking extreme pleasure in tearing them down.

The target on Friday night was Javier Hernández. Chicharito struck the cross-bar with a penalty kick in the 4th minute, then spent the next 75 minutes trying in vane to make up for his insolence. With each miss, the crowd grew more vocal. I sat next to some guys who started trashing him during the warm-ups. Before long, the crowd turned on him. Whistles and boos rained down from the half-filled stands. It's safe to say it was not his best game for Mexico. But it was certainly not his worst either. I might be in the minority, but I would rather have a striker take chances and miss, than not take chances at all. It's hard to score that way, or so I am told.

When Hernández bagged the 4th of Mexico's 5 goals in a span of 8 minutes, the same crowd who had lustfully jeered Chicharito not fifteen minutes before, actually started to serenade the Manchester United striker. A full-throated chant of his name that lasted a good minute.

Mexico has won all 5 of their semi-final round games, have a +11 goal differential (no other team has more than +4), and qualified for the hex after beating Costa Rica on the road back in September. So why is everyone so mad?

Well, that takes us to another long standing tradition of the Mexican fan: their sports heroes are either sublime... or crap. There is no in between - it is very black and white. There is never any context, and every game Mexico plays is in a vacuum. We saw this bi-polar phenomenon in the lead-up to the Olympics, the tournament itself, and the immediate thereafter.

Mexico tied their first prep match at León, then proceeded to lose matches vs Spain and then Japan. Mexico would be lucky to escape the group was what the conventional wisdom said. And then when Mexico could not get past Korea, well, why even bother playing the games? We all know what happened after that. Mexico went to Gold, only to return to crap just a few days later when they lost to the US in a friendly at the Azteca.

Back to Houston Friday night. While the Mexican media was quick to pounce on Chicharito, it spared them the ignominy of having to criticize their darling: Antonio Nealson Sinha. It was no coincidence that Mexico's 5 goals came in after Sinha left the pitch. The 36 year-old Toluca veteran was out of step with the rest of his side, wanting to play in idle while the rest of the squad was looking to jump to 4th. The media, in their bloodlust to trash Chicharito, also seemed to ignore the play of one Jorge "Chatón" Enríquez. The Chivas holding midfielder seems destined to not only captain Mexico, but also man the Mexican midfield for a dozen or so years, just like the man he replaced Friday night, Gerardo Torrado.

Did Mexico play it's best game? Hardly. But it was not their worst game either. Given the context of the game, the result was expected, as was the method by which it came. By why would I ever use context to analyze a result?