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Andres Guardado: The 'dinosaur' desperate to break Mexico's 'quinto partido' curse

11:00 PM MYT 21/11/2022
Mexico Andres Guardado Last Dance
Andres Guardado may not get the credit he feels he deserves at home but the 36-year-old is determined to make history at Qatar 2022.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will join an exclusive club this month in Qatar, but the other members of that group will receive a lesser-known name with more enthusiasm.

When he steps onto the field to face Poland in the opening game, midfielder Andres Guardado will become the third Mexican to play in five World Cups, alongside Antonio Carbajal and Rafa Marquez.

And while he never reached the heights of global megastars Messi and Ronaldo, Guardado knows he has the respect of former teammates like Marquez, and fans all over not just Mexico but the world.

In fact, what makes Guardado different from so many Mexico players of his generation is that he resisted the temptation to take the easy road forward and come back to North America to bask in the money and fame without the day-to-day work required to continue at the top level of the European club game.

Rather than accept overtures from countless Major League Soccer teams or even return to his beloved Atlas (where Marquez finished his playing career after a spell with the New York Red Bulls and a pair of Liga MX titles with Leon), Guardado has soldiered on and is on the verge of becoming Mexico’s most-capped player all-time – all without returning to Liga MX since leaving in 2007.

“Maybe it’s normal because I’ve played my whole career in Europe, but in Europe I’m more respected by managers, teammates and the press,” he told Star+ this month.

“I think they really rate what I’ve done here and that I’m still playing here, while in Mexico I’m seen as a dinosaur.”

The asteroid may be incoming for the 36-year-old, set to play his final World Cup and still in search of the elusive quinto partido no Mexican team ever has achieved on foreign soil.

But after joining his compatriots, plus Ronaldo, Messi, Lothar Matthaus and Gianluigi Buffon in the ‘five World Cups’ club, there will be no shame if Guardado wants to head back to Guadalajara or enjoy a few cocktails oceanside in Miami or Los Angeles.

Except, it doesn’t feel like Guardado is wired that way.

He was a mainstay at Deportivo La Coruna in his first stop since leaving Mexico and later became a beloved figure at PSV – the club that nearly took him to Europe in the first place before the offer from the Spanish club came in and trumped it.

Guardado then signed with Betis in 2017 amid interest from MLS squads. As North American teams continued to woo him, Guardado extended his stay in Seville through this season.

Some misguided Mexico fans may feel he’s a dinosaur, but Guardado may have more in common with a chameleon, able to change his colours depending on what a team needs.

Once a rangy attacking midfielder, Guardado has played as a wingback, a fullback and now is best as a two-way midfielder.

Those transitions earned the attention of Roma manager Jose Mourinho as he scouted Betis before the clubs’ meetings in this year’s Europa League group stage.

“He’s very good, has a lot of experience. Maybe he’s changed, like all of us, with time, going from more of a wide player who relied on his speed. Today he’s more cerebral in the middle of the field,” Mourinho told Fox Sports in October. “He’s a player with a lot of quality.”

His own managers have certainly enjoyed that versatility, the balance he can provide during matches and, now, the veteran voice he lends to the locker room.

At his first World Cup, in Germany in 2006, he was still finding himself as a player and as a person.

A surprise start in the quarterfinal against Argentina separates Guardado from teammate Guillermo Ochoa, who will attend his fifth World Cup as well but didn’t play under manager Ricardo La Volpe.

Guardado called the 66 minutes he played against Argentina "a catapult where practically nobody knew me and there I introduced myself to the world."

Both he and the current Club America shot-stopper soaked up lessons shared by Mexico legends like Marquez, Pavel Pardo, Carlos Salcido and Oswaldo Sanchez.

"It was like going on vacation with my idols. I was like a sponge, trying to learn from everybody," Guardado recently told the AP.

"I only played one game, but what I experienced was something I didn’t expect at that time in my life."

He now is one of those greats, passing Marquez, Claudio Suarez and Pardo on his way to being the most-capped player for the national team. Yet, he risks leaving a national team legacy defined by failing to break through in the biggest moments.

Not since 1986, when Mexico’s colorful stadiums were home to the World Cup, has El Tri managed to get out of the round of 16.

In what Guardado says will be a last tournament, he’ll be desperate to do what none of his idols could do either and put Mexico into the quarterfinals.

Guardado has been a part of the squads that have suffered painful loss after painful loss in the first knockout game.

“They all hurt, but the one against Holland hurt me the most, against Argentina in 2006 hurt too and it’s sad, not only because the game against Brazil but the one we lost against Sweden” in the group stage in 2018 that would’ve put Mexico through into a more accessible knockout match rather than facing the former world champions.

Judging by recent form, this does not look like the Mexico team most likely to break the streak and make the quarterfinals.

Indeed, plenty of experts are expecting Guardado’s time with the national team to end with a whimper instead of a roar, with Mexico in a tough group that includes Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia.

However, Guardado believes the outside doubt could work in Mexico’s favor, helping keep the team humble and focused on its goal rather than talking a big game and failing to deliver like the team did in past tournaments.

And, he insists, he wouldn’t be pressing on at the highest level if it weren’t for the desire to help El Tri get to the quarterfinals and beyond.

“I’m playing the World Cup, and my participation with the national team ends,” he told Rondo Magazine. “It’s my last dream.

"I don’t see it as wanting to play five World Cups, but rather as my last chance to get something for my national team.

“A lot of people think I’m going for the record, and no. I’m still in Spain because I want, after so many years, to leave the national team calmly, thinking that I gave everything.

"I want to go and be an important piece to help the team be able to achieve this goal.”

With the motivation more about what he can give his team and his country, Guardado is sure to be welcomed warmly into that exclusive club, but it will mean little if his World Cup once again is cut short without a fifth game to play in.