Mexico's voyage of discovery
Mexico arrived in Germany with many questions surrounding their squad. Yes, they were leading their qualifying group for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany and were unbeaten in 17 games, but they had not faced world-class opposition since their resounding 4-0 defeat by Brazil in the 2004 Copa America. Now just a few weeks later, the whole world has seen what Mexico have to offer, and found them a force to be reckoned with on the global stage. If one thing has impressed critics during the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005, it has been the manner in which Ricardo Lavolpe's side have played. FIFA Technical Study Group member Francisco Maturana even went as far as to describe the strategy which Mexico used in defeating eventual winners Brazil 1-0 as "a genuine masterstroke".
To pull off this upset and claim the many plaudits that followed, the Argentine-born coach gambled on his side's ability to wear down the opposition and outlast them physically. The overriding feature of the Mexicans was their incredible mobility, both when attacking and defending.
At the back, El Tri systematically pressed their opponents, always sending in two markers in tandem when seeking to win back possession. When faced with this type of attention, even players of the quality of Ronaldinho and Juan Riquelme were made to look ordinary. Only Michael Ballack, with his powerful attacking style, managed to cause problems for the Mexican rearguard.
Up front, this constant movement meant there were normally plenty of options available for the player in possession. With impressive skill, the Aztec men were able to work the ball right across the pitch, sometimes with sufficient time and space to dazzle with back-heels, nutmegs and other such trickery.
Given the chance to make their mark in a genuine meritocracy, several young players went from being virtual unknowns to becoming household names during the course of the tournament. Foremost among these was Oswaldo Sanchez. Twice voted Anheuser-Busch Man of the Match, the Chivas goalkeeper reproduced on the world stage the excellent form he has been showing for some time in the Mexican championship. With a series of crucial saves, he was probably the best finest keeper at Germany 2005.
In front of him was a young defence who coped with the constant changes of personnel without compromising their style. Ricardo Osorio, Gonzalo Pineda and Carlos Salcido all had a practically flawless FIFA Confederations Cup. They defended with steel and elegance, showing technical skills one rarely sees from players in their positions.
In midfield, Pavel Pardo, who was elevated to captain during Rafael Marquez's absence, deputised impeccably. Meanwhile on the flanks, Mexico had players always capable of causing the opposition headaches. Ramon Morales created havoc on the left, while Luis Perez finally produced the kind of consistency that he had only previously hinted at. In the creative midfield role, Zinha showed craft and style, though his lack of consistency meant he did not play a decisive role in everyone game.
Up front, Jared Borgetti confirmed his reputation as one of the finest headers of the ball in the world. Jose Francisco Fonseca, for his part, was impressive on his first international tour of duty and, despite less playing time than some of his colleagues, still managed to grab two goals and do wonders for his chances of a place at Germany 2006.
However, it was not all roses for the Mexicans. Their reputation for failing to take their chances at critical moments was again in evidence, ultimately costing them a place on the podium. Nor could they lay to rest the ghost of the penalty shoot-out which, having afflicted them in every competition at one time or another, again came back to haunt them. Then there were events off the pitch like the strange decision to send home two of their players, Salvador Carmona and Aaron Galindo, and the ensuing silence that followed a policy that caused bad feeling in many sectors. Though eventually cleared up, the whole affair took some of the gloss of the team's fine performances on the pitch.
Finally, there remains some unfinished business for captain Marquez. The Barcelona man was absent when his side needed him most. After recovering from an injury problem, he came on for a few minutes against Greece before finally starting a game in the semi-final against Argentina. However, his sending-off in the final minute of normal time was a huge loss to his side. When Mexico return to these very pitches in 12 months' time for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Marquez and the rest of the side will be hoping to put things right.