Mexico, Latin America's underdog in World Cup

13:22, May 11, 2010      

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Mexico will start its World Cup campaign as one of the weaker competitors after a less than impressive qualification phase, during which the team sacked its manager.

While Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are showcases for international stars and have won nine World Cups between them, Mexico, ranked 17th in the world, has yet to pass the quarter-finals of the competition.

Furthermore, team captain Cuauhtemoc Blanco is way over his best although, like Argentine Diego Maradona, he remains an iconic figure in Mexico who creates tremendous morale.

The last years of his club career have been a journey from bad to worse: leaving Mexico City team America, which he was great in the 1990s, for the Fire in U.S. city Chicago; and then on to Veracruz, a second division team in Mexico. Each step was considered a step down.

Mexico qualified second to northern neighbor the United States during the North America, Central American and the Caribbean qualifiers, even though the U.S. is widely considered to have only a superficial soccer tradition.

Mexico made it to the final qualification round on goal difference, winning one game each against unfancied Jamaica, Honduras and Canada and losing one game each to the same opponents.

Midway through the campaign, Mexico sacked Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson as manager, a day after Mexico lost 3-1 to Honduras. Perhaps most painful of all for a nation with an intricate love-hate relationship to northern neighbor, Eriksson presided over a 2-0 loss by Mexico to the United States.

Former midfielder and veteran Mexican manager Javier Aguirre replaced Eriksson in April 2009, and led Mexico to victory over the U.S. in the two teams' next important match. He also led the team to a series of victories which were essential to qualifying for the South Africa event.

While he clearly galvanized the team, he also showed a fiery temper that did Mexico little service. During a July 2009 Gold Cup match, Aguirre kicked Panamania midfielder Ricardo Phillips from the touchlines, causing the player to fall and triggering a fight. He was fined 25,000 dollars for the incident which was calmed and brought to an end not by a figure of authority, but by Mexico's goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa.

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