El Tri's Hex drama is nothing new

[MEXICO] It only seemed like yesterday, with the 2013 Hexagonal about to begin, that Jose Manuel de la Torre boasted that 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 Panama).

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: 4-0-1

Mexico record (2009 Hexagonal):
Before change: 1-2-0
After change: 5-1-1

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 Luis Hernandez 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."

This 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 advantage.

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 Oct. 11. 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 (1993)

1998 Qualifying:
Bora Milutinovic (1996–1997)
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 (2001)

2006 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 (2012-13)
Luis Fernando Tena (2013)
4 comments about "El Tri's Hex drama is nothing new".
  1. charles davenport, September 9, 2013 at 9:30 a.m.

    Chepo Didn't start his best player in a "must-win" game with Honduras. Incredible.

  2. Scott O'Connor, September 9, 2013 at 11:30 a.m.

    The guy he started in place of Chicharito scored their goal, however...

  3. Aresenal Fan, September 9, 2013 at 12:52 p.m.

    Glad to see Chepo gone!!! Not sure how Tena is going to boost moral around the locker room, if he was part of Chepo's crew. Hoping he had some serious differences wiht Chepo's player selections. Chicharito on the bench? really!!! Hoping Vela gets back into the mix as soon as possible with Chepo gone.

  4. David Huff, September 10, 2013 at 1:46 p.m.

    La Volpe was the best coach that Mexico has ever had and put on quite an entertaining show in in WC Germany 2006.

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