Mexico fail to lift the curse
In the lead-up to Germany 2006 the dreaded curse of the last 16 was the only topic of conversation in Mexican footballing circles.
The men in green fell at the very same hurdle at the three previous FIFA World Cups, and the hope was they might finally pass this barrier and reach the quarter-finals. Unfortunately for Ricardo La Volpe's men, a tough draw and an inability to recapture their form early enough ensured the hoodoo remained intact.
Despite producing a magnificent performance against Argentina in one of the tournament's most exciting games yet, the hurdle of the Round of 16 again proved insurmountable as Mexico returned home with nothing to show for their sterling work.
Perhaps the only thing the team should reproach themselves for was their failure to show what they were capable of until it was too late. Their fine showing at the FIFA Confederations Cup last summer caught the eye of many observers, making their slightly inconsistent Group D form all the more disappointing.
It was only against the Argentines that they reproduced the committed, high-tempo football of June 2005. As well as they played in Leipzig, La Volpe's men had no answer to Maxi Rodriguez's candidate for goal of the tournament, and they were left wondering what might have been had they ousted Portugal at the top of the group.
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A maturing blend
Germany 2006 at least allowed several of Mexico's leading players to confirm their international credentials, foremost among them Rafael Marquez. With the exception of his erratic showing against the Portuguese, the Barcelona man was in virtually flawless form, tirelessly shuttling up and down the field, breaking up opposing attacks, launching his own side's forward moves and even finishing them off on one occasion.
His colleagues in the centre of the defence were also in fine fettle. Carlos Salcido and the outstanding Ricardo Osorio provided a solid base for the rest of the team to build on, while Osorio's lung-busting runs into the Argentine half in the dying minutes of extra time will live long in the memory.
Others to do themselves justice in Germany were the ever-dependable Oswaldo Sanchez in goal, midfielder Pavel Pardo whose untimely injury against Argentina seriously undermined his side's chances and the tenacious Francisco Fonseca up front, who perhaps should have enjoyed more of an opportunity given his displays when called upon.
The performance of coach La Volpe has generated much debate among Mexico fans, with opinion largely split down the middle. While some Mexico fans heaped praise on him for the performance against Argentina, others found it hard to forget the selection controversies leading up to the tournament and blamed him for their team's elimination. The next few weeks should reveal whether the Argentine remains in the post.
Hope for the future
Mexico may have failed once again to negotiate the second round, but there are several reasons why El Tricolor can look to the future with optimism. The first of them is newcomer Andres Guardado. A substitute in the three group games, the 19-year-old started against Argentina and was far from overawed by the occasion. After driving the Argentine defence to distraction for 65 minutes, the disconsolate youngster picked up an injury and had to limp off. Had he stayed on, the story may well have ended differently.
Quite apart from Guardado, the squad's three central defenders will be at the peak of their powers come South Africa 2010, by which time a host of gifted youngsters already making an impression in world football should be ready to join them. Among them are the supremely talented prodigies Giovanni dos Santos and Carlos Vela, now on the books of Barcelona and Arsenal respectively, and a number of other hopefuls plying their trade in the domestic league, such as keeper Guillermo Ochoa, the creative Angel Reyna and striker Luis Landin.