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Aguirre returns to Tri hot seat
by Paul Kennedy, April 6th, 2009 7AM



Changing coaches in the middle of qualifying or before the World Cup is nothing new for Mexico. But having four coaches in less than a year -- Hugo Sanchez, Jesus Ramirez, Sven Goran Eriksson and now Javier Aguirre -- is extreme. Aguirre returns to take over the Tri in remarkably similar circumstances to those that existed eight years. Mexico had been humiliated by Honduras, 3-1, in San Pedro Sula and looked to be on the verge of not qualifying for the finals when Enrique Meza was fired. If anything, Aguirre returns this time in circumstances more favorable.

In 2001, Mexico had only four points after five games when Aguirre was called in to replace Meza. He also had less than two weeks to prepare for his first qualifier -- against the USA -- in Mexico City. Heading into the showdown at Azteca Stadium, the Americans had won four games and tied one and appeared to be cruising to the finals. But Aguirre turned things around and fielded a makeshift team that scraped through, 1-0. The Tri went unbeaten the rest of the way, clinching a berth in the finals with a 3-0 win over Honduras on the final day of the 2001 Hexagonal.

This time, Mexico still has seven games to play in the Hexagonal and only finds itself one point behind the top three. (The top three teams in the Hexagonal advance to the World Cup, and the fourth-place team meets South America's No. 5 team in a playoff.)

Aguirre also has a larger pool of players to choose from than he did in 2001 when he shook up the Mexico lineup and dropped eight starters from San Pedro Sula game. He also has two months to prepare Mexico for its next double-fixture dates against El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago, arguably the two weakest teams in the Hexagonal.

Aguirre parlayed his successful run with Mexico that ended with a 2-0 loss to the USA in the round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup into a long run as coach of Osasuna and then Atletico Madrid in Spain.

He returns, though, to find Mexico at one of its low points in the last quarter century. Just four years, Mexico celebrated its first world championship when the Tri won the 2005 U-17 World Cup in Peru. A year later, Mexico returned to the round of 16 at the World Cup for the fourth straight time. But success came at a price.

For the first time, Mexico's top players were sold en masse to European clubs, where most have flopped or faded after promising starts to their pro careers.

An increasingly tabloid press has turned on the Tri stars, further souring things within the national team.

Captain Pavel Pardo, one of the few holdovers from Aguirre's first tenure, called on everyone -- players, coaches and federation executives -- to pull their weight.

"The coach has 30 percent [of the blame] and the rest lies with the players," he said following Eriksson's dismissal. "The directors also share a percentage. Why have other teams like the United States improved? Because they have a project, they have a philosophy and they have criteria, and this has to be analyzed by the people in the long trousers."

Previous Mexico coaching changes:

Pre-1994 World Cup. Argentine legend Cesar Luis Menotti coached the Tri for 15 months until he was replaced by Miguel Mejia Baron after the semifinal round of qualifying.

Pre-1998 World Cup. Bora Milutinovic took over for Mejia Baron in 1995 and qualified Mexico for the 1998 World Cup in France but was replaced by Manuel Lapuente shortly after qualifying ended.

Pre-2002 World Cup. Lapuente quit  as national team coach in September 2000 after the Tricolor clinched a berth in the Hexagonal. Meza, his replacement, lasted five games into the Hexagonal when he was in turn replaced by Aguirre.

Pre-2006 World Cup. Ricardo La Volpe is the exception. The Argentine survived from 2002 through the 2006 World Cup finals.

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