Cuauhtemoc Blanco bids farewell to Estadio Azteca, spells doom for Mexico


Cuauhtemoc Blanco, one of Mexico’s proudest sons, took a final bow in his final match in Mexico colors at the Estadio Azteca.

It was an emotional testimonial for the 41-year-old schemer, though it also signaled an ominous sign for El Tri fans right before the 2014 World Cup kicks off in two weeks time.

Blanco, who earned the starting nod for Mexico against Israel on Wednesday night, got a full 38 minutes and was arguably El Tri’s best player on the pitch. And Twitter agreed:

Blanco undoubtedly served as the center of attention in Mexico’s superfluous 3-0 victory over the Israel and as the rallying point for El Tri’s final match on home soil. The former Club America legend relished the opportunity to play his part one last time.

Yet somewhere in the world, you can’t help but think that Group A rivals Brazil, Cameroon and Croatia are licking their chops.

Image provided by Mexsport Agencia Fotográfica.


Liga MX Apertura Final: Leon defeats Club America in first leg clash


Club León took a substantive step toward its sixth title with a 2-0 victory over holders Club América in the first leg of the Liga MX Apertura final on Thursday night.

Carlos Peña opened the scoring inside the opening quarter of an hour to offer León a tangible foothold from its fine first half display. América responded after the interval, but Mauro Boselli sumptuously chipped home the critical second in the final 15 minutes to secure a positive result at the Nou Camp.

The margin of victory affords León a modest cushion ahead of the second leg at Estadio Azteca on Sunday night. América possess ample motivation – the prospect of a record 12th title in Miguel Herrera’s final game in charge – to overturn the deficit. Las Águilas’ formidable home record in Mexico City offers hope of procuring the result required to claim a second championship in succession, but there is still plenty of work ahead for the holders.

Both teams will spend the next two days recovering before the return leg in the capital on Sunday. They will assess a few of the key points — including the five to follow here — as they plot their path to the summit of Mexican soccer.

1. León stamps its intent early: The home side grasped control of the first half from the outset. The back-and-forth tempo encouraged León to push numbers forward and unsettle América’s back five. América plays directly and quickly, but the cadence of the early stages moved too quickly for the holders. León used that brisk pace to create chances and eventually prompt the opening goal.

2. Peña imposes his will: Peña exposed Herrera’s decision to name both Osvaldo Martínez and Rubens Sambueza in his midfield three with his tireless industry in the center of the park. His relentless work piled pressure on América every time he touched the ball. His work on the opening goal — seeing a loose clearance from a corner kick, sprinting to the ball in front of his man and thumping it past Moisés Muñoz from the edge of the penalty area — neatly captured his considerable contributions on the evening.

3. América responds after the break: Herrera motivated his side at the interval and watched his players improve substantially at the star of the second half. By obtaining more of the ball and using it more judiciously, The visitors prevented León from turning the match into a track meet once more. The improved width and the reinforced work through the middle created opportunities. Martínez even forced a good save from the unsteady William Yarbrough on a half-volley. It just didn’t lead to the goal required to consolidate after such a promising spell.

4. Boselli punishes América for its inability to grab the equalizer: The second goal came from a typically determined Peña run through the middle. Maza Rodríguez intervened and tackled the ball straight into Boselli’s path. The former Wigan striker allowed the ball to slide all the way across his body before he clipped it neatly over Munoz for the second. His precise display of skill rescued an otherwise mundane half for León and sent the home side into a promising position.

5. León might rue the chances squandered in the final stages: América buckled in the wake of Boselli’s goal. León perked up considerably given the additional impetus. It nearly caught Muñoz out on one or two occasions, but a backward header from an unsuspecting Rodríguez glanced over the bar in the waning seconds of the game. The difference between a two-goal and a three-goal deficit is a substantial one. If América storms out as expected on Sunday evening, then León might lament its inability to kill off this tie on home soil.


Five points: Mexico v New Zealand, World Cup Qualifying Playoff

Mexico’s place in the World Cup should not rest upon success in a two-legged playoff against New Zealand. This tiresome process should have ended long ago. It has not for a host of reasons. And the ongoing series of failures ensures El Tri still has work to do to secure a place in Brazil next summer.

It is not an easy task, either. New Zealand offers committed and organized opposition. Mexico once again boasts a significant edge in technical ability, but it must close the difference in other, more rudimentary departments in order to see off the All Whites and travel to Wellington next week with a hefty advantage in tow.

Interim boss Miguel Herrera expects his charges to emerge victorious at Estadio Azteca. If they adhere to the game plan and note these five points along the way, then they should finally meet expectations and place both hands on a World Cup berth before leaving Mexico City:

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Raul Jimenez revives Mexico’s World Cup hopes with stunning golazo


Image courtesy of Mexsport Sports Agency

Mexico needed a goal five minutes desperately from time to break the 1-1 stalemate with Panama. There were a million reasons for Raúl Jiménez to try something more practical when Fernando Arce played a diagonal ball into his feet.

And yet, Jimenez didn’t and all of Mexico will thank him for it.

Jimenez drifted into a yard of space at the edge of the penalty area. A clever touch, a deft turn and a stunning shot that injected life into Mexico’s World Cup plans.

Arce’s pass skipped off the surface en route and stripped away the preferred option. The ball approached Jiménez awkwardly, forcing him into a bad touch and presenting him with an gamble previously too audacious to consider.

Jiménez popped the ball up into the air. It ascended into the night sky seemingly in slow motion. He watched it climb with two Panamanian defenders at close attention. And then he summoned the courage to take the only remaining course of action.


Image courtesy of Mexsport Sports Agency

As the ball peaked, Jiménez hurled himself into the air majestically and lashed his right boot toward the ball. The bicycle kick constitutes a desperate effort from this sort of distance, a last resort of strikers with no other alternatives. There is no room for error in the execution. The entire sequence — ball, leap and strike — must come off perfectly in order to give it a chance to succeed.

Jiménez did his part. He connected purely, swinging through with menace and precision. The ball jumped off his foot with the direction and the pace to freeze Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo in place.

Fate did the rest. Jiménez’s perfect confluence of movements carried the ball inside the near post and sparked the sort of celebrations only genuine salvation can bring. Jiménez peeled off toward the right side of the penalty area and reveled in what he had done with his teammates.

The appreciation will continue for some time to come given the magnitude of the 2-1 victory and the quality of the goal. Jiménez rescued Mexico on the night and sustained El Tri’s World Cup hopes for another few days. And he did it because he aspired toward brilliance and delivered in the most compelling way possible.


Five things to watch during Mexico vs. Honduras

Months of waiting and weeks of speculation will end when Mexico finally takes the field against Honduras at Estadio Azteca tonight. It is the most significant game of the Hexagonal to date for El Tri, a chance to atone for the three scoreless draws in Mexico City and ease the tension ahead of the final three Hex matches.

The buildup to the game included plenty of discussion about its overall significance and the particular selection quandaries facing José Manuel de la Torre ahead of the encounter (please add link from secondary preview when posted). Here are five more points to watch as the tense affair unfolds this evening.

1. How will Mexico process the pressure?

El Tri crumbled under the pressure to dictate terms and sweep aside its opposition in its previous three home matches. It cannot afford a similar display against the Hondurans. This group must exude confidence from the opening whistle and stamp its intent on the game early to calm the inevitable nerves and set the tone for the affair.

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Liga MX Liguilla: Cruz Azul take 1-0 lead over Club America


Photo: Getty Images

By Kyle McCarthy

Cruz Azul claimed a 1-0 victory over bitter rivals Club América in the first leg of the Liguilla final on Thursday night, but the modest margin between the teams leaves both sides with a chance to lift the trophy.

Both sides failed to hit their best in a bland affair hindered by the rainy and slippery conditions at Estadio Azul and tempered by the looming second leg at Estadio Azteca on Sunday night.

América manager Miguel Herrera played his part in removing some of the excitement by naming a conservative side (the usual 5-3-2 setup with the now customary pair of holding midfielders) and telling his players to keep the match as narrow as possible inside their own half. The approach worked for the most part with in-form winger Pablo Barrera only a fleeting influence on the proceedings.

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Earthquake rattles Mexico City, World Cup qualifier still on


Image from @NickRimando

By Leander Schaerlaeckens

Mexico City, Mexico

On the morning of the most tempestuous soccer game in the region between archrivals Mexico and the United States, an earthquake shook the country. The US Geological Survey measured its magnitude at 5.5 while Mexico’s Seismology Service registered it at 5.9.

Buildings reportedly swayed here in the capital city, 227 miles northwest of the quake’s epicenter, while earthquake alarms sent people fleeing into the streets in some parts of the country. No damage was reported anywhere across town, however. In the southern section of Mexico City, where the US is staying a few miles away from the Estadio Azteca, where the game will be played, the earthquake was barely even felt.

It hit at 7.04am local time, followed by a slightly milder aftershock eight minutes later, and most people slept through it. A US Soccer spokesman said only a few team-members even noticed the tremble. Defender Omar Gonzalez took to Twitter and joked about the earthquake to his followers, saying “first a snow storm… Now an earthquake? We’re not messin’ around!”


As such, the early-morning rumble isn’t expected to have any effect on Tuesday night’s game whatsoever. The US is primed for a tough contest in difficult conditions – altitude, smog, more than 100,000 raucous Mexican fans with a habit of hurling objects and liquids at the Americans – and this blip will barely register.

The US team goes into Tuesday night’s game full of confidence – “110,000? Yes, please,” US forward Herculez Gomez tweeted Monday night. “If this doesn’t get you going then you don’t have a pulse.” – having taken its first ever win at the Azteca in 25 tries last August. And a minor incident like a shudder in their beds will hardly dull their focus and desire.

As Gomez told journalists on the eve of the game, “Anything can happen.” That includes earthquakes, and its impact on the US team will be same as it was on local infrastructure – non-existent.