For 15 years, Mexico’s matches in Columbus only ended one way – with the bitter taste of 2-0 defeat. It all started back in the final six-team ‘Hexagonal’ round of qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, when USA opted for the capital of Ohio state as the ideal ‘fortress’ to tackle El Tri – thus picking a location where the climate and the fans’ fervour would subsequently prove suitably hostile to Mexico’s hopes.
Rafael Marquez was there for that first defeat, back on 28 February 2001. The former Monaco and Barcelona star also bore witness to his country’s reverses in the same arena on the road to Germany 2006, South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014 – the Stars and Stripes making it four World Cup qualifying wins from four in Columbus against their fierce rivals. Yet, at the fifth attempt, this Friday 11 November, El Tri finally broke the curse – and it was their evergreen skipper and figurehead who played a decisive role.
Incombustible Layun also to the fore
In an emotion-packed, pulsating match, where tension levels racked up a notch with every spirited challenge, it was Mexico who started on the front foot and, around the 20-minute mark, they got their reward. Miguel Layun was first to react to a loose ball just outside the area and, without thinking twice, clipped in a shot that evaded the reach of Tim Howard and found the back of the net.
Come the second half though, Mexico found the going tougher, particularly after US striker Bobby Wood forced his way through the defence to fire home left-footed. The equaliser triggered a suffocating all-out assault by the hosts, determined to clinch all three points. They had not reckoned with Marquez, however, who on 89 minutes applied a perfect looping header to a near-post corner from the tireless Layun to secure a 2-1 success.
“That winning goal was the result of huge [group] effort: we came here to try and rewrite history,” said Marquez, after the game. “This gives us a great deal of confidence and the motivation to continue on this path and go and chase three points wherever we play. We have to keep improving. I celebrated this goal with all my heart; it’s been a long time since I enjoyed a goal this much.”
It is true that, from a mathematical perspective, the win was only worth three points, with Mexico still having nine matches of the Hexagonal round to play on the road to Russia 2018. Even so, this epic victory on US soil is another step towards banishing the memory of El Tri’s calamitous defeat by Chile at this summer’s Copa America Centenario and boosts morale for an uphill journey that also contains a trip to the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017.
“You can’t change history, but you can make it,” was the verdict of Mexico boss Juan Carlos Osorio. “That 7-0 [defeat to Chile] hasn’t been erased, but nor can anybody erase tonight’s win over United States. USA are great opponents, but this was a fair result. Now we have to get ready to face Panama.”