By Jose M. Romero / @RomeroJoseM
For FOX Deportes
I celebrated Mexico’s historic 2-1 Olympic gold-medal victory like countless (OK, maybe hundreds) of Americans of Mexican descent did: over some cold pizza.
What’s more American than that?
I skipped the menudo con tortillas parties at the crack of dawn at local restaurants and stayed home to watch Mexico v. Brazil. I watched the second half by myself. And on Saturday, like every day, it was a good day to have Mexican blood.
Mexico’s win, you see, wasn’t just for Mexico. It was for Mexicans and those of Mexican descent everywhere. It made those of us in the multi-generational Chicano category proud, too. For those young men on that medal stand in London, bouquets of flowers in their hands and gold around their necks, it was the moment of a lifetime. And whether you’re Mexican from Guadalajara or Portland, Ore., it was a beautiful moment, too.
El Tri is far and away the favorite soccer team in my part of Phoenix, Ariz. You can’t pass by a Mexican mini-grocery store or restaurant without some Mexican soccer federation emblem sponsored by a Mexican beer. And you can’t tell me that winning the Olympic soccer tournament wasn’t important to my American community.
The World Cup it was not – I can’t even imagine how wild that would be – but it was historic. I knew Mexico had a very good Olympic team, but it lacked a big name outside of Gio Dos Santos, whose name isn’t even that recognized internationally. Not like Chicharito Hernandez, who wasn’t on the team. And who outside of Mexico and part of the U.S. had heard of Oribe Peralta? The Santos Laguna forward scored both goals in the gold-medal match.
For all the talk about Mexico’s offense with Dos Santos (who didn’t even play Saturday) and Peralta and Marco Fabian – who put himself on the world map with his effort, especially in the semifinals and final – it was El Tri’s defense that made the biggest difference with the gold medal on the line.
First and foremost, goalkeeper Jose Corona saved the day. Three times he denied the Brazilians, and even as Brazil attacked time after time and seemed to dominate possession of the ball, Corona and defenders Carlos Salcido, Diego Reyes, Hiram Mier and Israel Jimenez were there to clear it.
For 90 minutes they hung tough in the face of Brazil’s skillful dribblers and distributors, and then the aptly named Hulk put one in the net to make it interesting at the end.
Until Hulk’s goal, the desperation and frustration on the faces of the Brazilian players seemed out of place. They are finishers. They had cruised through the Olympics en route to a certain gold medal that they could defend on home soil in 2016.
The gold medal is Mexico’s and now there is increased talk about a World Cup 2014 run like Mexico has never seen. El Tri is practically experts at Round of 16 exits, but this next World Cup has a different feel. The success of this U-23 team in London (three players were “overage”) and very recent youth international team wins in other tournaments has coincided with the rise of the senior national team that is not only good now, it might even be better by 2014.
If the 2014 World Cup rosters will be loaded with players from the 2012 Olympics, it stands to reason that Mexico is primed for a deep run in Brazil. Already the top force in North America, the future looks even brighter.
The present is pretty bright, too. Mexico and the U.S. are so connected that an American was on the pitch to help Mexico win gold. He’s Sacramento, Calif. native Miguel Ponce, a midfielder. And he’s an Olympic champion.
I’ve never spent more than a month in Mexico. I’m not even sure I have living relatives there anymore. But on days like Saturday, the connection to the country of my ancestors is stronger than ever.