An elderly man walked by me at the airport yesterday and asked, "Did they win?"
At first I was confused. I looked up from my laptop but soon realized that I was still wearing my Mexico jersey.
"Yeah, man," I replied with a full smile. "They rocked that game and are now set to play the Netherlands this weekend."
The elderly gentleman scrunched his face up a bit, as if contorting his face would help him understand what I had just said.
He then sought some clarification. "Is that a good thing?"
That's when I began to chuckle, which actually surprised me a bit. I was still on a Miguel Herrera-esque high after Mexico's 3-1 win over Croatia, but this man's innocuous question brought me back to reality a bit.
Mexico will be playing the Netherlands in the round of 16, and it won't be easy. This is the same Netherlands squad that was able to score 10 goals in the group stage, five of which were against Spain. It's definitely a good thing that Mexico made it into the next round; a fan would be foolish not to wish that upon their squad.
Yet this is when the real test begins for Mexico. The group stage hurdle has been crossed with little trouble, but El Tri now find themselves in the round of 16 for a sixth time in a row. It's a feat that only a couple of teams can boast, but it's frustrating for fans when this has been the same exit for every World Cup since 1994.
It's nice being nominated for an Oscar multiple times but discouraging if you never win. Mexico has become the Leonardo DiCaprio of soccer. They get invited to the big show but never take home any prizes.
At the very least, Mexico looks to be hitting its stride at the perfect time. Which is what truly matters in the World Cup. It doesn't matter if a squad was ranked No. 1 in the FIFA rankings for months, it can still crash and burn in the short span of the World Cup. Just ask Spain.
If Mexico can continue with this pace and intensity, it might have a fighting chance against the Netherlands. Which I guess wouldn't be too far-fetched at this moment. Herrera, the squad, and most fans feel that almost anything is possible after that group stage.
- Netherlands vs. Mexico, Sunday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
- Marshall: Mexico grades
El Tri were haphazardly brought together and were only given a short amount of time to find some unity before the start of the World Cup. The team has exceeded almost all expectations and doesn't appear to be afraid of any hindrance that is thrown at them.
Herrera will have some big decisions to make ahead of the match against the Netherlands. Deciding which player will take over Jose Juan Vazquez's spot will surely be a headache for the manager after the midfielder received his second yellow card during the group stage.
Also, Javier Hernandez's presence up top was massive for Mexico, but once again brings up the question as to which two strikers are the best options for El Tri. If only they could bring in a young Luis Hernandez who could score another last-minute goal against the Netherlands like he did in 1998.
Either way, Mexico must recognize its task at hand. They team has the the potential to make history, and its match against the Netherlands will be its first step towards it. Which is a good thing after all.