With spirits understandably low amid a miserable run of form, Mexico now have the added frustration of re-living one of the most traumatic moments in their history.
When Costa Rica come calling at the fabled Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on 28 March for their FIFA World Cup™ qualifier, they will do so with heads high and confidence soaring despite only ever winning five of 37 meetings with their hosts. Whereas Mexico are on a run of four straight games without a win in North, Central America and the Caribbean qualifying, Rodrigo Kenton's Ticos have scored 22 goals in their last seven games, all wins. And current form aside, the memory of Costa Rica's famous win in Mexico City in 2001 is still fresh in the memory.
Some eight years ago, on 17 June, a Costa Rica outfit led by Alexandre Guimaraes made history in the Mexican capital, handing the home side their only-ever qualifying loss at the gigantic and imposing Estadio Azteca, in what is now known as the Aztecazo. It was a watershed moment for both nations, one which the Mexicans, whose supremacy in CONCACAF is fast fading, would love to forget and, at the same time, a springboard for the Ticos.
No team has beaten Mexico at their famous 100,000-seat ground, perched high among the mountains that surround the city, since that summer day in 2001 when Hernan Medford popped up to score a late winner in a historic 2-1 win. Even so, there are some alarming parallels between then and now as Mexico stumble toward a home date with Central America's finest side.
In 2001, the Aztecazo was preceded by a run of dreadful results by El Tri. Three straight losses at the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup in the Far East were followed by a slow start to the final qualifying round for Korea/Japan 2002, where Enrique Meza's men drew with Trinidad and Tobago and lost to the United States. Fast forward to today, and the second matchday of qualifying for South Africa 2010, and Mexican troubles seem even more alarming. Fresh off a 2-0 loss to arch-rivals USA on the road last month, El Tri will be missing their stalwart captain Rafa Marquez, who was sent off against the Americans and handed a two-game suspension. The Mexicans have not won a competitive match in the space of 360 minutes of football, during which time they have scored just two goals. Despite their troubles, a 5-1 win friendly win over Bolivia in a recent friendly will be cause for some optimism.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Marquez summed up the atmosphere surrounding Sven-Goran Eriksson's team. "Mexican football has a deep-rooted problem and that's the cause of the bad patch we've been going through," said the Barcelona player and national team captain, red carded for kicking out at US goalkeeper Tim Howard in February. "Our football is stagnating. Sometimes I feel we're being left to fend for ourselves."
Only two survivors from the 2001 Aztecazo, Pavel Pardo and goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez, are likely to take part in the festivities on Saturday. The Costa Ricans, for their part, are a completely revamped outfit.
No woes for Ticos
In sharp contrast to Mexico's much-publicised wobbles, the Ticos are oozing confidence. Coach Kenton has built himself a dynamic, youthful squad, re-inventing a team that could only manage a draw with Grenada last year. Since the former Saprissa man and national youth coach has taken the reins from Aztecazo hero Hernan Medford, it has been all smiles. They finished top of their semi-final group with six straight wins (20 goals scored and three conceded), and last time out, at home against Honduras, they managed a 2-0 win for a share of top spot in the hexagonal with the USA.
The likes of Brian Ruiz, Froylan Ledezma, Celso Borges and Andy Furtado have stepped in to fill the gaps between aging veterans like Walter Centeno, making the Ticos a dangerous bag of tricks. "The players have gotten into a rhythm and are playing good and, as a result, the fans and the media have come around and are right behind us," Kenton said, describing a diametrically opposed atmosphere to that surrounding the Mexicans. "We want to keep that going. We're looking for wins and that's that."