By Mike Woitalla
Coach Ricardo La Volpe paces the sidelines during Mexico's games looking like he slept at the train station along with the hundreds of Mexican fans who are often stranded in the German cities where El Tri plays.
La Volpe appears tired, angry and menacing. To the Mexican fans and press, he is the arrogant Argentine. When there's thunder and lightning, they say, he steps outside and smiles at the sky because he believes God is taking his picture.
The 54-year-old who has lived in Mexico for 25 years has done much to antagonize the press. Before the tournament, he told Mexican journalists "you are full of s***" and "know nothing about soccer." In Germany, he threw water at photographers from his plastic bottle and said, "They deserve to have other things thrown at them."
The fans turned against him before the tournament because he left star striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco at home while picking his own son-in-law for the squad. In Germany, they chant Blanco's name and sing a tune that goes something like this: "Look at him, look at him, he's not a coach. He's a whore, he's a whore."
La Volpe didn't start the new darling of Mexican soccer, Francisco "Kikin" Fonseca, for the first two games, a win over Iran (3-1) and a scoreless tie with Angola. When Fonseca finally started, he scored the only goal in a 2-1 loss to a Portuguese team resting five starters.
"We're embarrassed," read the headline in Mexico's Ovaciones, while Milenio called it "A Disaster."
Mexico played its last two games without injured leading scorer Jared Borgetti. Striker Omar Bravoscored twice against Iran but missed a penalty kick against Portugal and a one-on-one. For their part, the Mexicans conceded a penalty kick when their best player, Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez, committed a foolish handball.
The most common question from Mexican journalists to the Tricolores' players after the Portugal loss was, "How do you feel about performing so poorly for all your fans who traveled so many miles and spent so much money to watch you?"
So large are the Mexican crowds that full trains leave hordes behind. They sleep on benches blanketed by their Mexican flags. After the 0-0 game against Angola, 400 missed their train and slept in the Hanover central station's basement bunker, a remnant of World War II.
Despite the loss, Mexico reached the second round, but finishing second to Portugal set up a clash with Argentina, for whom La Volpe was the No. 3 keeper when it won the 1978 World Cup. Argentina has been the tournament's strongest team. Barring a miracle, Mexico's dream of finally reaching the final four of a World Cup will go unrealized.
La Volpe has asked Mexico's fans to pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe. But if it falls in the round of 16 for the fourth straight time, there's no doubt where the blame will be placed.