Defying analysts (and even fans) at home and abroad, Mexico is firmly planted in the Olympic final, ready to make history on top of an already epic campaign.Before the start of the Olympic Games, I was discussing Mexico's Olympic chances with a few quite prominent sports journalists.
A run of friendlies before the tournament resulted in a troubling string of weak performances, which cast reasonable doubts over El Tri's potential. One person in particular would not waver from his gloomy position.
"Mexico will fail. They will fail and it will become a black mark for Chepo de la Torre. Luis Fernando Tena will be fired. It will be a disaster," the veteran journalist told us. Our hurried replies held a few valid points that he shook off time and time again. Eventually, his motivation was revealed.
"Look, I'd rather they fail than be proven wrong. I've been talking about how bad Tena has been handling this team for months now. They might win, but I'd rather they don't," he said.
In a nutshell, that's the way the road to success is paved for Mexican soccer. It's dirty, treacherous and filled with mines.
Most fans who shared this particular journalist's opinion (or were basically instructed to), have hopped on the bandwagon by now, thrilled by the unprecedented -- though not completely unexpected -- run of success in London 2012. Others clutch to their negativity, emptily praising the fact that Mexico has secured a medal but still holding on the last bastion that can secure some measure of failure: Brazil.
By the time the medal ceremony takes place at Wembley, a first-time Olympic champion will be crowned, that much we know. But there's no reason to believe or even suspect that Brazil is hungrier for the win than Mexico. An Olympic Gold means Brazil can chuck another sparkling memento of greatness into its cabinet, whereas Mexico would point to its newest achievement as evidence of a golden generation that could peak in 2014.
Brazil's perennial superiority on paper means that Mexico is already at an apparent disadvantage. It also means that the team is fighting against a glut of media naysayers and its pessimistic domestic followers, as well as the glare from the world's watchful eye.
Still, if anyone out there believes this is a conspiracy theory or a non-issue being blown out of proportion, the following quote is submitted for approval.
"I want to thank those who have always been with me for their support. [I'd like to thank] those who weren't, too," said Marco Fabian after Mexico defeated Japan 3-1 in the semis. "This is my reward after so much work, effort and time. Now we must go along the same road."
It's on the players' minds. It exists. They know what's being said and who is saying it. For years, the undercurrent of media criticism was refreshing, growing as a response to what was perceived as cheerleading by TV commentators, who were paid by companies that own Mexican first division teams and have a very strong say in what goes on with the national team.
That line has failed to edit itself in the past few years and has gotten downright intolerable at times. Wins in 2005 and 2011 for the U-17s, as well as strong showings at the U-20 and U-23 level, have yielded backhanded attempts at praise.
Unapologetic spewing of criticism has morphed from "Mexico is a great youth team, but it is not even the best team in CONCACAF," to "Mexico is a great youth team, tops in CONCACAF but not good enough to win an Olympic gold medal." And so on and so forth.
Should Mexico emerge victorious from Saturday's clash at Wembley against Neymar and his band of merry men, I know I'll be tuning in to a couple of Mexican sports talk and analysis shows that night.
It'll be fun to watch those guys sweat under the lights.
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