USA-Mexico games are rarely about flowing football, dynamic movement or elegance. There seems something more elemental at play when the two arch-rivals square off. Such was the case in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday 11 February when two goals from Michael Bradley saw the USA move to the top of the final 'hexagonal' qualifying group and sent Mexican hearts sinking.
Played in driving rain and swirling, cyclone-like winds, the game was more a muddy skirmish than a football match. The weather was frigid, but the temperature down on the pitch was always threatening to boil over
"Firstly, I want to say I'm sorry to the fans of Mexico and to my team-mates," captain Rafa Marquez said after the game, referring to his wild challenge on US keeper Tim Howard and subsequent dismissal in the 66th minute. "I lost my head and I sincerely apologise for it."
The score at that time was already 1-0, Michael Bradley having bundled the ball home two minutes before the interval. "I was not the man of the match," the scorer clarified after his two-goal performance - his second coming in second half stoppage time from 25 yards out. "USA-Mexico games are not about me, or Landon Donovan or any one player. We had eleven guys out there on the field and they gave everything to make sure we won the game. If you don't get excited for a game like this, then you're in the wrong business."
Bob Bradley - USA coach and father of two-goal man Michael - was keen to put the emotions of the rivalry into perspective. "Overall, I think the game was played in the right spirit," he said. "These are the kinds of games that are very emotional and sometimes that emotion can boil over. That's just part of the rivalry. I'm just thrilled that we took the three points and began the final round with a win."
Bradley wants more
Happy with the result, the understated US boss was not totally convinced with his side's performance. "Individually I don't think we played at our best tonight," he said. "There are defiantly some areas where we will need to improve but we kept things tight and played well as a unit.
"I would also like to point out how great the fans were tonight," Bradley added of the throngs of American and Mexican fans who screamed themselves hoarse in horrendous weather for the whole of the match. "Having both sets of fans here and heard is what this rivalry is all about."
Bradley's opposite number, Sven-Goran Eriksson, who is now well and truly in the hot seat after picking up just one point from his last four qualifiers, is eager to the put the defeat in the past.
"We made some mistakes tonight and we had some troubles. We are not as dangerous in attack as I would like to be, but there are still a lot of games to be played in this qualifying campaign and we need to focus on those," he said.
When asked about the rematch scheduled for August at the mythical Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, where El Tri have only ever lost once, Bradley betrayed a slight smile. "We're looking forward to it," he concluded.