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“Mexico will find a way at the World Cup, just as they always do”

AS USA caught up with Mexican fútbol expert and host of the Mexican Soccer Show Podcast, Wiso Vázquez as he looks at El Tri’s prospects at the 2022 World Cup.

“Mexico will find a way at the World Cup, just as they always do”

Kick-off at the 2022 Qatar World Cup is just days away as enthusiasm levels start to build with the action on the pitch finally set to take centre stage.

Mexico are pitted in a tough Group C and will face Poland at Stadium 974 on 22 November. Gerardo Martino’s side then take on highly fancied Argentina on the 26th at the 80,000 capacity Lusail Stadium before facing Saudi Arabia on 30 November in the concluding group stage clash.

Lusail, Qatar -
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Ahead of the tournament and to get more insight on El Tri’s chances in Qatar, we caught up with Mexican fútbol expert and host of the very fine English language Mexican Soccer Show Podcast, Wiso Vazquez to asses Mexico’s chances and ascertain if Tata Martino’s men can make it to that ever elusive ‘quinto partido’.

Q) Just before we reflect on Mexico at the World Cup, a question on Liga MX with the 2022 Apertura having recently concluded. There seems to be a perception outside the US/Mexico that this league and its coverage has something of unfulfilled potential?

A) Despite Liga MX being the number one most watched league in terms of viewership in the US, constantly beating major European leagues in terms of audience ratings, clubs and the league governing body seem to fail to acknowledge their potential with failure to invest being key. Having said that, we’re now starting to see some games being broadcast in English and a handful of Liga MX teams are now creating English language social media accounts. These initiatives however, have only emerged in the past four years so it’s a slow process but the potential to grow and expand certainly exists.

MLS are certainly starting to set an example here (in the US) and we’re seeing more cross league collaborations between both sides and competitions such as the joint initiative Leagues Cup will improve things and help Liga MX profile. The other point to add is the lack of a centralised television deal where Mexican clubs have their own broadcast deals and this in turn impacts on the fans with constant complaints about having to subscribe to a number of different providers just to follow the league.

Nashville, Tennessee, US; Club America forward Federico Vinas (24) Nashville SC forward Ethan Zubak (11)
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Nashville, Tennessee, US; Club America forward Federico Vinas (24) Nashville SC forward Ethan Zubak (11) Christopher HanewinckelUSA TODAY Sports

Q) Onto the Mexican national team. UK based magazine Four Four Two described the Mexico team as ‘frayed at the edges but providing the same comforting familiarity as your favourite hangover t-shirt’... your thoughts on their assessment?

It’s good to hear criticism on an international level. We always hear that Mexico are a tough draw at World Cups and in general the fans believe that we’ll make it out of the group as we have done so at every tournament since 1986.

But, yes, there are concerns about the ageing squad and going into the competition, results and general feelings were not so positive ahead of qualification. On top of that there are concerns relating to injuries so many fans are apprehensive. But, in some way, it’s the World Cup and Mexico will find a way because they always do. I think that’s the general outlook.

Q) Mexico’s World Cup success or failure in Qatar really does seem to hinge on the opening game against Poland. Lose to the Poles and things look bleak?

For sure. I’ve always been told that the key at the World Cup is to win your first game as it gives you one foot in the door for the second round, right? This is a perfect example of two contenders who will feel they should progress to the second round because there is a sense that Argentina will probably win all three games. The Poland game is unquestionably the biggest test of the three as an opening defeat could signal a goodbye to the second round.

We just need to trust in the manager and the experience that he has in managing these situations but the threat posed by Robert Lewandowski against an aging Mexico defence tells me that there will be goals in this game. Speaking to Polish media and fans, they tell me that there isn’t a high level of optimism surrounding the Poland team so it’s critical that Mexico maintain their composure and stay true to their game-plan. I think fans are feeling confident that we can get the win or at least a tie, but it’s definitely the most important game for us.

Poland's Robert Lewandowski
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Poland's Robert Lewandowski KACPER PEMPELREUTERS

Q) A defeat though would mean Mexico would have to secure a positive result against Argentina and hope that other results go your way?

Yeah, even a tie could complicate things as few expect us to get anything from the Argentina game. Having said that, Mexico somehow raise their game in the group stages against former World Cup winners and we saw that with the win over Germany in Russia. It’s it’s really really funny how Mexico elevates their game when little is expected. The Saudi Arabia game is also going to be complicated too and will be no pushovers, so it’s it’s definitely going to be three exciting games, but I think Mexico can can win two of the three but that very first game like you said, if it all goes wrong in the first game then we can pretty much kiss the second round goodbye.

Q) Mexican fans are expected to travel to Qatar in their thousands, there seems to be a special bond between the supporters and national team that seems unique. Why are so many fans set to travel for a nation who always reaches the Round of 16?

It’s a lot to do with a Mexican national pride and you just see any time a Mexican is on the world stage, regardless of what sport it is... boxing, F1, soccer...a feeling of national pride emerges. You’ll see a huge travelling support from Mexico itself but just as many US based Mexico fans will head to Doha too and I’ve heard estimates that there will be anything from 80 to 100,000 fans there to support El Tri. We’ve seen how Mexico took masses of fans to recent World Cups...2010, 2014 and in Russia. Mexico fans will go with a party attitude although it will be different in Qatar but, nonetheless, the majority of fans will look to have fun. When we travel, we’ve seen how the world really really embraces Mexican fans and the Sombrero is always a talking point and the reception is always positive.

Mexico fans cheer before the game against the Uruguay at State Farm Stadium
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Mexico fans cheer before the game against the Uruguay at State Farm StadiumMark J. RebilasUSA TODAY Sports

Q) Focusing on the World Cup itself. There’s been considerable coverage on the staging of of the World Cup in Qatar...a country that has no soccer history with much focus on the injustices of immigrant workers and draconian LGBTQ laws. What is being reported in Mexican media on those issues?

I think it’s certainly been a talking point for a while in the US and its media...does it spill over to Mexico side I haven’t seen as much honestly. When I follow Mexican soccer shows, it’s not something that I’ve seen discussed but I don’t really follow Mexican political affairs in depth being based in the US. But yes, there are so many questions about this tournament, how are we supposed to cover it as fans or media and there’s no doubt that it will be a very different World Cup.

Q) The Mexico national side also made the news after the trouble with FIFA over the homophobic ‘el grito’ which lead to the closure recently of the Azteca. Despite pleas from the FMF, why do the fans insist on doing this knowing that they are hindering the national side they love so much?

This has been a problem since 2006 and it was in 2014 when FIFA finally took the matter seriously and then in around 2019, the Mexican FA finally realised that they needed to figure out a way to stop this. Fans have been chanting this since 2006 and generally it takes a very, very long time to educate people. I think it’s different at World Cups, I think you only saw one game in the 2018 World Cup were it was chanted and it wasn’t heard at the Confederations Cup for example. You rarely hear it at Mexican league games any more which is where it initially originated, so there has certainly been a change on that front. It’s difficult to explain that word as it’s one that is used in so many different ways with many fans claiming that they are not using it as a homophobic slur. I talked to some LGTBQ friends about this and they claimed that they didn’t feel comfortable with fans around them using the ‘puto’ chant and from that very moment that changed my mind and the education process certainly has led to many questioning why the chant is used.

I also fear though that should things not work out well for El Tri in Qatar or they are angry with Tata Martino, then fans may resort to using it and that is disappointing as it’s such a childish response.

I’ve asked fans in the past: ‘if you say it one more time Mexico doesn’t go to the World Cup, would you continue’ and the general response is ‘no’, however, there is, sadly, a percentage of fans who feel that no-one can tell them what they can or cannot chant.

Q) It would be remiss to not talk about the Mexico World Cup shirts with El Tri set to be the most stylish side in Qatar, great work from the FMF and Adidas, especially on the away jersey?

It’s incredible how this new jersey has brought everyone together. We haven’t had a green jersey in a very long time so upon release, the reaction was great and everyone was really happy. When the second jersey came out with this cream and burgundy colour paying tribute to the colours used in the first World Cup when Mexico wore a burgundy or deep red, the reaction was amazing as it pays tribute to our history. I think Adidas did an amazing job but apparently they had this design in the wings for a while. Even our eternal rivals, US fans also recognise that it’s an amazing jersey.

You can follow Wiso on Twitter: @WisoVazquez and listen to the Mexican Soccer Show on all good podcast platforms and follow them on Instagram at: TheMexicanSoccerShow