It only seemed like yesterday, with the 2013 Hexagonal about to begin, that Jose Manuel de la Torre
his goal for Mexico in the final round of Concacaf qualifying for the 2014 World Cup was to win all 10 games.
"You can't always win," he said. "But you can always try."
Chepo's boast sounds ridiculous now, but you have to remember that Mexico's record in the first two years of his reign was 12-0-0 in competitive matches and he did have under-23 players coming through
from the 2012 Olympic gold-medal team.
But the idea that El Tri might sweep the Hexagonal ended quickly as it was tied by Jamaica, 0-0, at Azteca Stadium in its first game. In retrospect,
that game should have been a warning that there was trouble with El Tri as the Reggae Boyz are in last place of the Hexagonal with just three points after seven games.
A 2-2 tie at
Honduras -- after El Tri blew a 2-0 lead -- and a 0-0 tie at Azteca -- again -- with the USA followed in March to leave Mexico with three ties after three games. More warning signs but nothing but
support for Chepo came out of the headquarters of the Mexican federation (FMF). The message: he's still never lost a competitive match.
A change should have probably been made at that
point, but FMF president Justino Compean
was preoccupied with what was dubbed his "Clásico personal." Compean's Concacaf battle with U.S. Soccer
president Sunil Gulati
for a berth on the FIFA executive committee ended in defeat in mid-April when he lost by one vote (17-16).
De la Torre
stayed on through the June qualifiers -- a 1-0 win at Jamaica followed by two more 0-0 ties -- the Confederations Cup (where Mexico was eliminated after two games) and Gold Cup (where it lost twice to
A meeting of Mexican First Division presidents in August failed to produce a consensus, and Chepo stayed on through Friday's fateful Aztecazo, a 2-1 loss to Honduras for only
Mexico's second home loss ever in World Cup qualifying.
Chepo refused to quit, and in the middle of the night came the news that Compean had replaced him with Luis Fernando Tena
. It marked the third time in five Hexagonals Mexico has changed coaches in the middle of the 10-game series -- and each time it followed a loss to Honduras.
This is by far the latest the FMF has moved to switch coaches. In 2001, Enrique Meza
was fired after five games. In 2009, Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson
was replaced after three games.
Both times, the replacement was Javier Aguirre
, and both times Mexico cruised
through the remainder of the Hexagonal: Mexico record (2001 Hexagonal): Before change:
1-3-1 After change:
Mexico record (2009 Hexagonal): Before change:
1-2-0 After change:
After a 3-1 loss at Honduras sent Meza packing, Aguirre had just
11 days to prepare for El Tri's next game game against the USA. He dropped long-time stars like Jorge Campos
and replaced them with a core of players from Cruz Azul -- six in all -- who had lost to Boca Juniors in the final of the Libertadores Cup final just three days earlier.
Supported by 110,000 fans, Mexico went out and beat the USA, 1-0. "Since we didn't have much time to practice together," Aguirre said, "I just told everyone to do what they could."
time, Tena won't have the luxury of changing teams. "In three days," he said Saturday, "we cannot carry out big changes."
Mexico is in a tough position, but it could be worse. El Tri sits
in fourth place with seven points. It would have been in fifth place but Panama had to settle for a 0-0 time at home Friday night with Jamaica despite playing the last half hour with a man
Mexico still has road games at the USA and Costa Rica, the top two teams in the Hexagonal, but its remaining home is against Panama on
A win over the Canaleros, whom it leads by one point, would virtually assure Mexico of no worse than fourth place -- which would qualify it for a
playoff against New Zealand.
In any other year, beating Panama at home would be a mere formality. But there is one small problem. Mexico has yet to
win in four qualifiers this year at Azteca Stadium.
1994 Qualifying: Luis Cesar Menotti
(1992) Miguel Mejia Baron
Qualifying: Bora Milutinovic
Note: Milutinovic was fired right after the Hexagonal ended and replaced by Manuel Lapuente
. 2002 Qualifying: Hugo Sanchez
(2000) Enrique Meza
(2000–2001) Javier Aguirre
Qualifying: Ricardo La Volpe
(2004-05) 2010 Qualifying: Jesus Ramirez
(2008) Sven-Goran Eriksson
(2008–2009) Javier Aguirre
(2009) 2014 Qualifying: Jose Manuel de la Torre
Luis Fernando Tena