Mexico’s “Dia De La Marmota” Strikes Again

Written by Ian Thomson

COLUMBUS, Ohio – “Dos a cero, dos a cero,” rang the chant around the parking lots at Columbus Crew Stadium prior to this week’s FIFA World Cup qualifier between the United States and Mexico.

Ohio’s capital city has been a fruitless destination for El Tri since Major League Soccer’s first soccer-specific venue was constructed in 1999. Qualifiers for three previous World Cups were staged in Columbus with the U.S. registering 2-0 wins on every occasion. Throw in the same outcome when the two Concacaf rivals met in South Korea during the 2002 tournament and it’s little wonder that “Dos a cero” has taken on a near mythical status among American fans.

Trickles of Mexicans were reminded of those failures Tuesday as they snaked through oceans of red, white and blue toward the turnstiles. They skulked back through those gates shortly before 10 p.m. having seen their team produce a Groundhog Day performance that further endangers its chances of reaching next summer’s shindig in Brazil.

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Mexico’s players trudge away from their goal after Eddie Johnson put the U.S. ahead on 49 minutes. (Photo: Ian Thomson)

America’s path to qualification has been far from impressive – dire defeats in Honduras and Costa Rica bookended four ugly wins and an attritional scoreless tie at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca. Mexico’s woeful run of one win in seven led to Jose Manuel de la Torre’s dismissal after last week’s 2-1 home loss to Honduras.

Muse’s chundering anthem rock and a labored rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” set the tone for a morose opening by the U.S., allowing Mexico to assume control. Javier Hernandez turned expertly on the right before zipping the ball across Tim Howard’s goalmouth, and DaMarcus Beasley almost turned a Giovani Dos Santos cross past his own goalkeeper with a bumbling clearance.

The positioning of the press box high behind the U.S. supporters’ section at the stadium’s north end afforded an insightful view of Hernandez’s movement during the first half. While boxers duck and weave within the confines of a 20-foot wide ring, “Chicharito” largely confined his movements to a 20-yard strip in line with the six-yard box. He was constantly on his toes looking to drop off the shoulders of central defenders Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson.

Mexico’s problem was locating their poacher in an area further congested by deep-lying midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones. Attacking midfielder Christian Gimenez tested Howard with a fizzing left-foot drive from the edge of the box before flashing a free kick narrowly over the crossbar from a tight angle.

A straight ball over the top on 24 minutes found Gonzalez toiling after being sucked out of position, and that opened a gap for Dos Santos to exploit. The Villarreal forward’s first touch squandered his potential shooting chance, and a theatrical tumble as Jones shepherded him wide did not impress referee Courtney Campbell.

It took 27 minutes for the underwhelming Americans to build a passing sequence. Jurgen Klinsmann’s side patiently worked the ball from left to right before Alejandro Bedoya teed up Jones. The Schalke midfielder dragged his low 25-yard shot wide of the far post.

Eddie Johnson leapt prodigiously to meet Landon Donovan’s outswinging corner and force Mexican goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona into a sprawling save as the hosts’ brief threat continued.

Creativity, confidence and self-belief have ebbed away from Mexico during this qualifying campaign as promising starts have stuttered into disappointing ties. Their inability to find a goal during their spell of early dominance took its toll as the first half petered out with little incident. Corona’s blunder four minutes after the interval handed the Americans an advantage that they would not cede.

Donovan whipped another outswinging corner toward the center of the six-yard box, tempting Cruz Azul goalkeeper Corona from his line to punch clear. Johnson met the ball two yards in front of the Mexican captain to head it powerfully into the empty net.

A Mexican fan watches his team lose 2-0 to the U.S. in Columbus. (Photo: Ian Thomson)
A Mexican fan watches his team lose 2-0 to the U.S. in Columbus. (Photo: Ian Thomson)

Mexico’s interim head coach Luis Fernando Tena made a trio of changes as the second half ticked on. Gimenez made way for Porto’s Hector Herrera, Olympic gold medal hero Oribe Peralta came on for midfielder Fernando Arce, and Angel Reyna replaced left-back Carlos Salcido.

Reyna was still adjusting his jersey sleeves when the U.S. delivered the knockout blow 12 minutes from full-time. Mexico wasted a throw-in deep in their half when Andres Guardado sliced the ball into touch, drawing sarcastic cheers from the buoyant Columbus crowd. Substitute Mix Diskerud gained possession after a botched clearance and a heavy U.S. touch following America’s subsequent restart. The Rosenborg midfielder advanced unchallenged toward the endline before driving over a cross that brushed Clint Dempsey’s toes. Donovan swept the ball into the net at the back post.

“Dos a cero” was happening again. Not even a last-minute Dempsey penalty kick could deviate Mexico’s curse from its seemingly pre-determined course. His effort whizzed inches past Corona’s left post.

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