Mexico victory ship sails for Fortaleza
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- What are we to make of the two faces of Mexican soccer? A few months ago, in the Estadio Azteca, it was pitiful. On Sunday, in Fortaleza, the Mexican team will be playing Holland to qualify for the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
The victory ship is ready, with its sails unfurled, awaiting the wind on Sunday so it can cruise the waterways of glory. Some opportunists threaten to board the ship to convince us that their work and policy for Mexican soccer are best.
It is easy to say: "That's soccer for you. The ball is round, it's 11 versus 11, and anything can happen." But I'm looking for a deeper and more analytical explanation for a team that has full potential to grow and take its place among the giants of the sport, but which generally finds a way to stab itself in the back and get lost along the way.
On the other hand, Mexico didn't reach its current spot in the World Cup by taking handouts. The work of the coach and his players -- more or less the same group that took part in the terrible failure in the qualifying rounds -- has been impeccable and commendable. Mexican soccer has bounced back to show that it has what it takes (technically, physically, mentally) to compete with the best teams in the world. You can only imagine what kind of results and what levels it could achieve if all the pieces were in place.
I hope that Mexican soccer officials don't take advantage of this situation to "board" the victory ship and lie to us, claiming that the whole troubled qualification process was only a "hiccup" and that nothing should be changed regarding the administrative and work approach to soccer and Mexican national teams. Getting caught up in the euphoria of triumph would be a great mistake. It would mean succumbing to a strategy used before by officials and the company that historically has pulled the strings controlling the national team.
Today's success belongs to manager Miguel Herrera and Rafael Márquez, Guillermo Ochoa, Hector Herrera, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Andres Guardado and all the other players. No one else can claim it. Don't lose sight of that fact.
Round of 16
Friday is the first day with no matches since the Brazil World Cup began. All are getting ready for the last 16. Interesting matches? Almost all of them.
Sparks might fly during the Colombia-Uruguay game. The suspension of Luis Suárez gives the Colombians a certain advantage, but Uruguay can grow with that in mind.
Sunday promises to be a special day for the CONCACAF region's teams. Mexico seeks a show of force against the Netherlands. Costa Rica faces a tough game against Greece. Imagine a Costa Rica-Mexico match in the quarterfinals. There is a lot of ground to cover between now and then, but anything can happen, especially in this World Cup where the forces have leveled out and the teams of the Americas have been making the rules.
David Faitelson is based in Los Angeles and co-hosts "Nacion ESPN," ESPN Deportes' version of "SportsNation." Follow him on Twitter @Faitelson_ESPN.