Though it is a rivalry that has only come into its own in the last two decades, meetings between Mexico and USA generate as much passion as any of world football’s other great fixtures.
Inextricably linked off the pitch, the two neighbours espouse markedly different footballing philosophies and traditions, and can both lay claim to famous victories over each other during the course of their adversarial relationship.
The cross-border rivals meet again on Saturday, when they will fight it out for the right to represent the CONCACAF Zone at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017. Lining up for the Mexicans at the weekend will be full-back Miguel Layun, who shared his views on the crunch game in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
*Arch enemies *
“It’s a special rivalry,” began the Porto man, getting straight to the point. “They’re our biggest opponents and there’s no question it’s a clásico. Winning is so important to us, not just because of the result and the chance to qualify for the Confederations Cup but because there’s our pride at stake too. There’s so much riding on this game for us.”
Layun has charted a slightly unusual career path, moving from the Mexican second division to Serie A and then returning home to play for domestic giants America. The subject of much criticism initially, Layun stuck to his task and eventually won the fans round.
Now a key figure in the Mexican national side and a first-choice with current employers Porto, he is looking to draw on his experience of triumphing in adversity to help El Tri overcome their northern neighbours and end a run of six matches without a win against them, a sequence made up of three draws and three defeats.
“I really don’t think they’ve played better than us in our recent meetings,” added Layun. “We’re both quality teams and obviously USA are tough rivals, but we’ve got the better of them before and the time’s come to do it again. We’re preparing in the same way we always do. We’re totally focused on the job but we’re aware that beating them feels a lot more special than beating any other team.”
Layun has a theory as to why recent encounters between the two sides have been so tightly contested: “It’s maybe because we know each other so well and we come up against each other more often, which usually makes for tighter games, although there is a difference between us in terms of quality.”
An international since 2013 and the winner of 30 caps to date, the speedy 27-year-old full-back has faced the Americans only three times and is yet to finish on the winning side, with Mexico having lost two and drawn one of those games.
Prior to playing a direct part in the rivalry, Layun was a passionate spectator and has many memories of previous meetings between the two countries: “The World Cup match in 2002 sticks in my mind. That goal by Landon Donovan still hurts. I think that’s my most painful memory of the rivalry. The best is the fantastic goal Gio dos Santos scored to give us victory in the 2011 Gold Cup final. It was a fantastic move and I can still picture it in my mind.”
The past will nevertheless count for nothing when the Mexicans run out against their biggest foes in Pasadena this weekend, as Bora Milutinovic, a man who has coached both sides, confirmed in an interview with FIFA.com. Tipping El Tri to win on account of what he sees as their superior quality, the legendary coach said: “History will have no part to play.”
“I agree with him,” said the Veracruz-born defender. “The past is the past and though it’s important, it’s not going to be a factor in us getting a good result on Saturday. It’s what we do on the pitch that counts. We’ve planned to play an intelligent game and get the win, and I’m sure we’ll do it.”