By Gerardo Martínez Gómez
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - El Tri's repeated promises of World Cup success have again finished with the same result—a second-round exit.
Mexico entered the quadrennial championship with a vow to end its streak of four consecutive flights home after the round-of-16, but considering its path to South Africa included being nearly eliminated in qualifying and three different coaches and an interim manager, that may seem ambitious in hindsight.
Once Mexico qualified, predictions of glory were fashionable. Yet upon traveling to Europe in May for the longest preparation in national team history, things changed.
England served Mexico a dose of reality with a 3-1 loss on May 24 at Wembley Stadium that surely left doubts in the mind of manager Javier Aguirre.
Three days later Mexico was beaten by the Netherlands 2-1 before El Tri regained some confidence by routing non-World Cup qualifier Gambia 5-1. A 2-1 victory over defending World Cup champion Italy in Brussels - Mexico's first victory in four matches against the Azzurri -- had restored the post-qualifying visions of grandeur.
The World Cup, same as always
Once in South Africa, the World Cup started ominously, playing better against the host Bafana Bafana but needing to rally for a 1-1 draw.
Sipihwe Tshabalala gave South Africa the lead, and only a late goal by Rafa Márquez salvaged a point for Mexico.
Aguirre's insistence on using forward Guillermo Franco continued to draw criticism, but a 2-0 victory- and a dominating performance by El Tri - over 2006 World Cup finalist France diminished his 180 minutes without a goal.
It was a result that - while sending Les Bleus into a tailspin - virtually assured a second-round berth, buoyed the Mexicans and had the faithful believing that El Tri could at least match their quarterfinal appearances in 1970 and 1986, when it hosted the World Cup.
And then it played Uruguay. El Vasco once again changed his starting lineup, needing a victory to win Group A and avoid Argentina, which despite pre-tournament criticism due to the management of Diego Maradona, had transformed itself into one of the tournament favorites.
But Mexico flopped, failing to convert its opportunities and lost to Los Charrúas 1-0, relegating it to second place in the group and assuring another meeting with Argentina, who eliminated El Tri in 2006.
Still, with what many considered to be the most talented team in a generation, hopes remained high. For the first 15 minutes, Mexico traded chances, and confidence soared. But a goal by Carlos Tevez that should have been disallowed because the Manchester City striker was offside, rattled the Mexican psyche. It manifested itself minutes later with a giveaway at the top of the area by defender Ricardo Osorio and a second goal by Gonzalo Higuain that Mexico never recovered from.
El Tri was unable to respond in the second half, leading to a second Tevez goal and a 3-0 lead, making Javier "Chicharito" Hernández's strike merely a consolation tally.
El Vasco says goodbye
With media criticism in full swing and tired of the atmosphere around the national team, Aguirre stepped down as manager on Wednesday, fulfilling a promise he made in February despite an offer from Mexican federation President Justino Compean to remain.
He wished the players well, and once again made predictions that the team has what it takes to make history in Brazil in 2014.
"It's a mutual agreement," Aguirre said. "The plan was to reach the fifth game and be one of the eight best teams in the world. If this wasn't achieved, it was clear to myself and the federation that continuity wasn't the best idea. The most honest and healthy thing for me to do is to step down."
Search for new coach will begin in earnest, with matches scheduled against Spain on August 11 in Mexico City and a four-team tournament set for the new Chivas stadium in Guadalajara supposedly later in the month.
Reporters and pundits have identified the leading candidates as José Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre of Toluca, Víctor Manuel Vucetich of Monterrey and Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, who coached Chile at the World Cup.
Chepo reportedly already is negotiating his departure from Toluca, which would make him the third coach from the club to go to the national team following Enrique Meza and Ricardo Lavolpe.
With age gaining on them, Rafael Márquez, Carlos Salcido, Ricardo Osorio, Gerardo Torrado, Guillermo Franco and Cuauhtémoc Blanco have said they will not look to play in Brazil in four years.
Therefore, youngsters such as Héctor Moreno, Efraín Juárez, Andrés Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos, Pablo Barrera, Carlos Vela and "Chicharito" likely will form the core of the next iteration of El Tri, who once more will look to fulfill the promise of World Cup glory.