By Mike Woitalla
Many buildings in Mexico City sink a few inches a year, such as the National Cathedral, which is also becoming the city’s version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Estadio Azteca, the only stadium to host two World Cup finals, remains on firm ground, having been built in 1966 atop solid lava that spilled out of the volcano Xitle around 400 A.D.
Azteca hosted the 1970 World Cup final, when a Pele-led Brazil beat Italy, 4-1. A 1985 earthquake destroyed 400 Mexico City buildings and severely damaged another 3,000, but Azteca Stadium survived unscathed and Mexico managed to host the 1986 World Cup, which culminated in Diego Maradona and Co.’s 3-2 win over West Germany. The stadium is so well designed, a capacity crowd of 104,000 can stream out within 18 minutes.
A 100,000-plus crowd is expected for the USA’s game against Mexico on Tuesday. Only 1,300 tickets -- the cheapest of which sell for $11 -- were still on sale by Sunday. For its Hexagonal opener Feb. 6 against Jamaica, only 43,000 showed up for the Wednesday night game. The game was considered so easy a win it wasn’t worth staying out late on a work night. (Tuesday’s game kicks off at 8:30 p.m. -- but it’s vacation time, Semana Santa -- and the foe is Mexico’s archrival).
Those who came to Azteca for the Jamaica game loudly jeered the El Tri as it struggled against the Reggae Boyz in a 0-0 tie, which ended a 24-game World Cup qualifying home win streak dating back to 2001, when Mexico fell, 2-1 to Costa Rica. Captain Francisco Javier “Maza” Rodriguez flipped off a TV camera after the game.
In Honduras, federation president Justino Compean -- who is running against his U.S. counterpart, Sunil Gulati, for Concacaf’s spot on the FIFA Executive Committee -- showed his middle finger to Honduran fans. Like Rodriguez, Compean offered the laughable excuse that he was simply holding up an injured finger.
Rodriguez, responsible for both Honduran goals in Friday's 2-2 tie in San Pedro Sula, won’t be around to insult anyone on Tuesday as the center back will be serving a yellow-card suspension. Also suspended is left back Jorge Torres Nilo.
While the USA played in a snow blizzard, the Mexicans had to cope with 100-plus degree weather in Honduras. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who had given El Tri a 2-0 lead, and attacker Giovani dos Santos both left the game with cramps and watched from the sidelines as Honduras recovered for the 2-2 tie.
The Mexican media took it pretty easy on El Tri after the tie in Honduras -- generally blaming the referee for the penalty call that set up the equalizer and celebrating Hernandez’s achievement of moving into sixth place among all-time Mexican leading scorers with 30 goals in 45 games. Chicharito’s strike rate of a goal every 104.6 minutes exceeds leader Jared Borgetti, whose 46 goals in 89 games represent a rate of one goal per 143 minutes.
Coach Jose Manuel “El Chepo” de la Torre, who took over in 2011 and guided Mexico to the Gold Cup title that year, will definitely find his job on the line if El Tri doesn’t beat the USA. “On a Downslide?” is question posed by La Aficion’s Sunday front page about de la Torre, under whom Mexico has yet to lose a official game. But having opened 2013 with a 1-1 friendly tie with Denmark, de la Torre is desperate for his first win of the year. Luis Tena, who guided Mexico to the 2012 Olympic gold medal, is available and a likely replacement.
De la Torre will have a huge crowd urging his squad on, but Mexican fans are quick to turn on their own team -- which is what the USA will be hoping for in Azteca on Tuesday.