It was a scene that will live long in the memory: the hero on the shoulders of his team-mates and smiling from ear to ear, acknowledging the fact that he was the greatest player his country had produced in the last 15 years.
When Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the hero in question, announced his retirement from international duty with Mexico it came as a surprise to everyone. His Tricolor team-mates had only been informed of the decision a few days earlier and public confirmation came on Wednesday morning, the day of their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier against Canada.
The departure of the inimitable No10 marks the end of an era. Loved and hated in equal measure - yet always admired - gifted and hot tempered, original in the extreme, Blanco is one of those rare players who resist comparison. The fact that even at the age of 35 he remained an essential part of Sven-Goran Eriksson's exceptionally young side says everything about his status in Mexican football.
The talisman gives his reasons
Blanco had been mulling the idea over for a few days, and after talking to his girlfriend and friends he took the decision. He told his Mexico team-mates at a barbecue last Sunday, asking them not to say anything about it until after the Canada game on Wednesday. The news was leaked to the press, however, forcing the midfield legend to make an official announcement hours before the midweek game.
After coming on as a substitute towards the end of his farewell match, Blanco was mobbed by his colleagues when the final whistle blew. Forming a circle, they tossed him repeatedly in the air before carrying him off the pitch on their shoulders.
The crowd, who had been chanting his name throughout the match, rose as one to salute their hero. "
I'm leaving a happy man. Some of my team-mates asked me not to retire but I've made my mind up
," he said. "I spoke about it with my people and the fact is I'm going out in a very positive frame of mind."
Blanco could not have chosen a more appropriate moment to bow out. In coming off the bench against the Canadians, he earned his 100th international cap, a landmark beyond the reach of all but a few players. Wednesday's 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs will not be the last time we will see the national legend in action, however, as his plan is to bid one final farewell at the scene of some of his greatest triumphs: the Estadio Azteca.
"I'd love to play one more game in Mexico, at the Estadio Azteca, and go out for good," he explained. "Even if its just ten or 15 minutes in an official match that will be enough for me. I've got so much affection for the fans there. They've always supported me."
It was the Azteca crowd that cheered his legendary goal against Brazil in the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup Mexico 1999 - the goal that gave the Tricolor their only international trophy to date. And of course it was the Azteca faithful who loudly acclaimed his world-famous Cuauhtemiña, the unique bunny-hop trick he used to deceive opponents by jumping in the air with the ball between his feet.
"I hope people have some fond memories of me, of the goals I scored in the World Cup and the Confederations Cup and all the goals I got for the national team," added an emotional Blanco.
A country united in appreciationAs it continued to digest the shock news, the Mexican football world expressed the warmest praise for the hero it has idolised for years. The first to speak were Blanco's international team-mates, among them the gifted Andres Guardado, who was quick to play down comparisons between himself and the departing idol.
"Nobody can rival Cuauhtemoc. He's unique in every way - his character, his moves, the way he plays, what he says. There's no one like him in the Mexico team and we'll miss him a lot."
Yet perhaps the biggest tribute came from the least expected source. The former Tri coach Ricardo La Volpe could hardly be described as one of Blanco's closest friends, and the two had many disagreements during their successful careers. Even so, the Argentinian coach only had compliments for the player.
A great player is leaving the game, one of the best Mexico has ever had
," said the man known as Bigotón for his bushy moustache. "How many of us would love to go out the way he has done, right at the top, having proved everything? He's an example to any footballer."
For the time being, and until he runs out for his last match at the Azteca, Blanco will continue to star for Major League Soccer side Chicago Fire. Even so, he does have one last wish to make.
"God willing I'll go back to America (the Mexican club) to retire. Although the way they're playing, perhaps not," he chuckled before taking his leave on a typically humorous note. "I'm off now. Make sure you eat your fruit and veg."
The one and only Cuauhtemoc Blanco; unique to the end.