Friday, August 10, 2012

For the Gold!

Last year, as Mexico prepared to face off against the US in the Gold Cup final, I wrote:
Of course, the defeated opponents named above are not an impressive lot. The US is, as always, a stiffer test, but even a win in the final in the Gold Cup on enemy turf doesn’t count as a concrete achievement so much as a potential frustration to be sidestepped. If Hernández and the rest can’t lead el Tri to something more substantial than a Gold Cup trophy over the next decade, that will indeed qualify them as underachievers, and Mexico will be right to be disappointed.
I was basing my judgment on the current 23-25-year-old generation, which includes Carlos Vela, Andrés Guardado, Pablo Barrera, Giovani Dos Santos, and, of course, Javier Hernández: compared to previous generations, those cats are something. Since that article was published, Mexico has won the under-17 World Cup, finished third in the under-20 World Cup, won the Pan-Am Games, and, of course, plays for a Gold Medal tomorrow morning. It's been quite a year or so, sullied only by the prostitute-laden disaster in the Copa América, which, prostitutes aside, was a B-team up against some of the best squads in the world. But more than the results, the striking thing is that the composition of these successful teams has been tremendously varied. The quintet mentioned above has collectively appeared only once in the four post-Gold Cup tourneys mentioned (Dos Santos in the Olympics, whose final he'll unfortunately miss with injury). The long list of vital contributors to all of these teams, from Ulises Dávila to Carlos Fierro to Jorge Enríquez to Oribe Peralta to Jesús Corona, in addition to Hernández and co., reflects not so much a single great generation punching above its weight (from whom as much success as possible must be wrung before the inevitable regression to the mean), but rather a nation that seems like it is ascending to another cruising altitude. And, of course, the US needs to step up to keep pace.

Also, if Mexico wins tomorrow, over a Brazilian U-23 (plus some helpful vets) team that is not far from the best squad the country can currently put on the field, that certainly qualifies as more substantial than the Gold Cup, and could probably be counted as the most significant victory in the nation's history.

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