By Mike Woitalla
It was 48 degrees on Tuesday morning in Mexico City, but it should be in the 60s for the USA's World Cup qualifier at Azteca Stadium that kicks off at 8:30 pm local time. For the Mexicans, they'll be playing at temperatures 40 degrees lower than what they faced during their 2-2 tie at Honduras on Friday. For the Americans, it's a pleasant warming from when the USA beat Costa Rica, 1-0, in the snow in Colorado.
On Monday, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann dismissed any notions that Mexico was a team in trouble after opening Hexagonal play with two ties, the first coming against Jamaica (0-0) in February.
“They played two very, very difficult games,” Klinsmann said. “Jamaica was here for 10-11 days games preparing. Mexico had to fly many of their players in from overseas two and a half days before the day.
“There are very difficult challenges in Concacaf for players and teams. Their game in Honduras was similar to ours [a 2-1 loss]. Mexico played a very good game in Honduras. They went up, 2-0, then had a lapse on a corner kick. We were up, 1-0, and got scored on with an amazing bicycle kick. Then they had the circumstances we also experienced: players cramping up in the heat.”
So no snow, no heat in Mexico City tonight. The altitude, 7,500 feet above sea level, is no longer a big advantage for El Tri, most of whose players don’t play for clubs at high altitude.
The pressure, however, is much more on the Mexicans, winless in 2013. Tonight’s game marks El Tri’s 70th World Cup qualifier at home, where it has a 68-1-5 record, its only loss coming in 2001 against Costa Rica.
As the Americans did before their Costa Rica game, the Mexican players deny there’s strife in the locker room.
“Our rivalry is with the USA, not between us,” says Guillermo Ochoa, the goalkeeper Coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre controversially chose over Jesus Corona after the Jamaica tie. Ochoa was also named captain for tonight's game.
Manchester United striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and his teammates endured jeers during and after their tie with the Reggae Boyz.
“We are facing a great team and we want the three points,” he said. “We are grateful for the fans who always support us.”
Giovani dos Santos, who plays for Mallorca in Spain, also alluded to Mexican fans' tendency to turn on their own team when the going gets rough:
“We need the fans’ support for the entire 90 minutes,” he said.
A loss for the USA in the third of 10 Hexagonal games -- with four more home games to come -- hardly dims its qualifying chances. Failure for Mexico, del la Torre seems to say, will hurt much more.
“In Mexico, we are 120 million people, more or less,” Chepo said. “Priistas, Panistas, Perredistas [supporters of the main three political parties: PRI, PAN and PRD], and everything. Catholics, Christians, boys, men, and the elderly. ... But the majority loves soccer, therefore our burden is great, because they want to identify with and celebrate with the national team.”