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A Dream Becomes Reality: Covering Mexico NT During World Cup Journey

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 17: Hirving Lozano of Mexico celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by David Ramos - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

My initial journey

I had my doubts as to whether I would have my Copa América Centenario media credentials approved or not, mostly due to the fact I had never covered a large event before. I began my writing career while in school studying Sports Management in 2011, but what began as a personal experiment turned into a passion over the years. I was able to write and cover one of my favorite sports, but more importantly, my beloved national team in Mexico.

My doubts were silenced when the email arrived in 2016. I went from a digital media intern with Arizona United (now Phoenix Rising) in 2015 to a full-fledged media member covering the beautiful game at the highest level. I did not receive the thumbs up the year prior at the 2015 Gold Cup, so I was elated when I learned I’d be in the press box during a Copa América game between Mexico and Uruguay.

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Covering Mexico at the Copa América for my first time was a great experience. It was hard to wrap my head around being able to cover a 3-1 win against a strong opponent in Uruguay and then having the ability to talk to players a mere 30-40 minutes after the game ended.

As many fans know, the end of Mexico’s run at the Copa América was disastrous. A bizarre 0-7 clubbing at the hands of Chile saw Mexico out of the tournament, cementing it as the worst loss in its history. This would begin the bittersweet path of covering and analyzing Mexico on its way to Russia 2018.

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The WCQ journey

Mexico has had trouble in World Cup qualification for quite some time. Even with a stronger roster than most CONCACAF teams, Mexico seems to struggle in hostile situations in the region. However, the 2018 World Cup qualification began in November of 2016 and Mexico had its biggest test – Columbus, OH vs the USA.

Less than half a year removed from one of the worst losses in their history, Mexico changed its course on a freezing night in Columbus. Despite the years of  “dos a cero” rattling the minds of many who wore the green jersey, the Mexico national team left the pitch with a 2-1 win at a stadium that was deemed a curse. The cherry on top was, of course, that Rafael Márquez scored the winning header at the end of the match.

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Once Mexico kicked off the qualification with 4/6 total points, they simply outplayed nearly every opposition. When it came to qualification, Mexico was virtually booked to Russia 2018 by mid-year 2017. It was a total 180 as to what happened in the previous cycle, specifically when Mexico left for the 2013 Confederations Cup.

A summer of hopes and nightmares

Mexico was able to break through the CONCACAF qualifying barrier but there were two obstacles that stood in their way in the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup in 2017. Juan Carlos Osorio took his first team to Russia 2017 in hopes to shake off the Copa América voodoo which plagued him for a year.

Mexico started the tournament against reigning European champions Portugal in what was a brilliant game. Mexico took a lead, lost it, and equalized in the final moment’s thanks to a Héctor Moreno goal off a corner. However, after feeling good about going head-to-head against a World power, Mexico quickly saw doubts resurface after a sloppy 2-1 win over New Zealand.

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Mexico did manage to defeat hosts Russia and saw themselves in the semifinal against a young but hungry Germany side. This was a chance for Osorio to cleanse his record with a win and a possible rematch against Chile, yet, it was anything but a victory for El Tri. The German team diced through Mexico’s defense (which was plagued with the starter injuries) and scored two goals early on. The final score of 4-1 gave Mexico fans and media a bad feeling about what was to come under Juan Carlos Osorio.

After the 4th place in Russia, El Tri had one last chance to rescue something out of the 2017 summer with a reserve team in the Gold Cup.

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I made a 5-hour drive to San Diego, California to see Mexico’s reserve team take on El Salvador to kick off their 2017 Gold Cup. I didn’t know what to expect, especially with so many different types of players called for this tournament. We saw youngsters making their case to be recognized for future matches, while other vets looked to lead this team and claim a championship.

Mexico took care of business on the pitch with a 3-1 victory. It wasn’t a surprising result but players like Moisés Muñoz and Jesús Molina reiterated that this was a process. The team knew there was talent but one victory wasn’t enough to feel like their path would be a cakewalk.

The next match I was able to cover in person was the first knockout game between Mexico and Honduras. This was an important game because Honduras had a full-strength roster, so a Mexico victory would really boost confidence. It only took four minutes before Rodolfo Pizarro gave Mexico its lead, a lead which they would hold on to the rest of the match.

You could tell the team was feeling good about the victory, as I spoke with several players, including rising youngster Edson Álvarez. He said that he learned a lot from the veterans in Russia when he flew out to train with them during the Confederations Cup and we saw it translate on the field.

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The Gold Cup would end up being another headache for Mexico. The team faced a motivated Jamaican side in the semifinal at the Rose Bowl. It was one of those matches in which Mexico could not find any breakthroughs, ideas would go dry between youngsters and veterans.

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The Jamaican side stabbed Mexico’s Gold Cup dream in the heart thanks to an 88th-minute goal from Kemar Lawrence. There was no hardware coming home with a team who carried Mexico’s last hope for the summer of 2017.

The wait coming to an end

I continued my coverage of the Mexican national team in 2018 by flying out to Dallas to see El Tri take on Croatia. It was one of the few exhibitions remaining before Mexico cut down its final roster. The fans made their way to the Cowboys Stadium on a rainy night, one in which would end as ugly as the storm hovering above the stadium.

The last thing Mexico needed just several months before the World Cup was injuries, yet, that is exactly what happened. Néstor Araujo went down with an injury early in the first half. After that moment, the team checked out mentally. A 0-1 loss, a player injured, and more questions loomed for the Mexican team.

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Showtime in Russia 

We saw roster changes, injuries, losses, wins – you name it. However, it was all finished with, as Mexico was facing the #1 team in the World to start their group stage. It was a game that gave me nerves dating back to when I saw Germany and Mexico linked together in the draw. Were we going to see another blasting at the hands of the Germans? Would Juan Carlos Osorio change his course with a result? There was nothing left but the play the game.

Mexico showed up in one of its best matches under Juan Carlos Osorio. For all the flack he has received, and much of it was warranted, no one can deny that JCO planned for this game beautifully. The players executed and followed the tactical approach to a T.

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To fast forward, Mexico’s end to the 2018 World Cup was expected once they lost to Sweden. They gave the fans some unforgettable memories, especially after getting revenge against Germany. Yet, Juan Carlos Osorio and co. didn’t have enough to get past a stacked Brazilian side.

If you had told me Mexico would lose in the round of 16 again, I would have believed you. I actually felt that if they made the knockouts while in a group with Germany, Sweden, and South Korea that it would have been a success. The way Panama and Costa Rica looked made me think that Mexico reaching the knockouts was a good look for them.

I definitely didn’t expect the World Cup to go as it did. The losses hurt but not as much as the loss in 2014. It really was a shame Mexico couldn’t make history even after taking down the best team in the World.

Mexico’s play made us wanting more because we saw the talent the team has but it just is lacking that final killer instinct. Hopefully, this increases the team’s hunger to win in the future.

Onwards and upwards

The road to the 2018 World Cup has ended, however, my time covering Mexico has just begun. I am proud of the team who represented Mexico in Russia, but there is more to accomplish from here on out. I have optimism and I am excited to see the new crop of Mexican talent who will lead the team towards Qatar 2022.

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Mexico will need to continue exporting players abroad to expose their game to the best available competition(s). The way the team is changing, the 2022 era will need to be top talent from player 1 to 23. Mexico will need to get rid of the idea that a player deserves a spot due to “team happiness” if it doesn’t translate on the pitch. The next generation to wear the green jersey will need to be physically and mentally ready to take on the world’s best.

I was fortunate, after years of writing, to be able to cover my beloved team. The road to Qatar 2022 begins sooner than we realize it and I will be right there to continue covering El Tri.

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