USA vs Mexico World Cup Qualifier Inspires Hatred, Voodoo
On Feb. 11, the US-Mexico World Cup Qualifying game at Columbus Crew Stadium will re-ignite one of the most heated rivalries in sports.
The rivalry between the two teams, which dominate the CONCACAF region, stems from personal animosity between players and political hostility between the two countries.
Historically, the football-mad country of Mexico has dominated the US, a country that has rarely showed an interest in the sport they refer to as soccer.
For the last several years, however, the US has caught up with their neighbors to the south, so much so that Mexico hasn't won on US soil in a decade. There has been plenty of bad blood between the neighboring countries. Perhaps the worst incident occurred in the 2002 World Cup when Mexican defender Rafael Marquez received a red card for a brutal tackle on Cobi Jones.
Now, Mexico vs. U.S. is gaining balance, each a strong favorite to win at home and satisfied with a draw away. Whereas once the Mexicans were arrogant and disdainful of their counterparts, a mutual respect is developing.
"With our generation, it did start to change," said New England Revolution technical director Mike Burns. "All of a sudden, we were competition for them. Now, I like to say we're the dominant force in CONCACAF. We have other rivals in the region, but Mexico is still the team, that's the rival, and it goes both ways.
"It goes beyond the game. They look at us not only as a soccer team but as a nation and they want to dethrone us and beat the U.S. It crosses all lines. They want to beat us so badly. In World Cup qualifiers, the magnitude of the game is enormous, but there is a little extra when we play Mexico."
The rivalry has spilled into the stands as the occasional ugly incident has taken place during US-Mexico matches, especially those played in the US. Many Mexican-Americans turn out in force to support Los Tricolores, something that many Americans find disrespectful. Add in the recent tensions in the US regarding illegal immigration and you have all the makings of a tense matchup.
Fans in Mexico are so riled up over the match that some are resorting to voodoo. The Record newspaper are distributing voodoo dolls of US footballers with the word "gringos" on the back at Blockbuster video stores. The dolls were originally distributed by Radio Shack, but the company later backed out of the deal.
But Record spokesman Daniel Paz said the promotion is lighthearted.
"In soccer, training and practice are what determine the results. The best team will win," he said. "But without any doubt, this little doll can help the good vibes of the Mexican fans to change the history of Mexico and turn things around."
No doubt Mexican players rail against quotes like this one from US veteran Landon Donovan.
"No matter how many time you beat them it's always 'whose the best team in CONCACAF'. Why don't you look at the results? It's pretty clear. That's why they're talking and say what they do, because they can't do it on the field. That bothers them. That being said, all it takes is one result and they're going to run their mouths until the cows come home."
As for the game itself, the US will be led by veterans Donovan, Frankie Hejduk, DaMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard, and Oguchi Onyewu. Mexico will rely on Europe-based players like Marquez, Guillermo Franco, and Omar Bravo as well as veteran goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez.
The US-Mexico match will take place Feb. 11, at 7 pm EST at Columbus Crew Stadium. The game will be broadcast in the US on ESPN2.