the mexican soccer team made history on august 11, 2012. luis fernando tena put together an under-23 squad full of talented players who participated in the summer olympics.
The Olympic tournament has never been easy for the tri. in barcelona in 1992 and greece in 2004 they did not qualify to go to the round of 16 and in atlanta in 1996 they were eliminated in the quarterfinals.
but london was different. mexico did not lose a single time and showed they have the guts and talent to overcome adversity. he had nothing to do with luck.
tena’s first trial was in the 2011 cup america. mexico played with the under-23 team because the senior team played in the gold cup in the united states.
It was the perfect opportunity to try out new players, but this became a problem when eight of them were suspended before the first game because they were seen with girls in their hotel rooms.
the team left the tournament early. A disastrous 0-0-3 record, plus one goal for and four against, meant Mexico’s worst participation in the tournament.
Three months later, Guadalajara hosted the Pan American Games. the under-23s played at home and eventually won the gold medal, their first since winnipeg in 1999.
The team was better than it had been in a long time, and 2012 promised to bring even more success.
return to the path of triumph
Mexico entered the 2012 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament as favorites, and the players did not disappoint.
el tri defeated trinidad and tobago 7-1, honduras 3-0 and panama 1-0, and was the only undefeated team in the competition.
In the semifinals, Mexico eliminated Canada 3-1 and beat Honduras in the final 2-1 with a goal in the 116th minute by Miguel Ponce.
this tournament also meant redemption for marco fabian. The Chivas midfielder was one of the players who received a six-month suspension and a fine for the Copa América scandal.
this time, fabián became a key element in mexico’s offense and was the top scorer with five goals.
hiram mier established himself as one of the most promising defenders of his generation, along with diego reyes and darvin chavez.
Javier Aquino and Héctor Herrera demonstrated their skills in midfield, as well as their importance in keeping and distributing the ball.
They secured their ticket to London 2012, which meant it was time to compete against the best.
the toulon tournament brings together some of the best under-23 teams. In the 2012 edition, Mexico played in Group B with France, Morocco and Belarus.
His debut against Morocco could not have been better. Marco Fabian scored a hat-trick to help El Tri secure their first victory.
two days later, france put mexico in danger and defeated them 3-1. In the last game, the boys from Tena got three more points and advanced to the round of 16.
fabian was the hero of the group stage scoring six goals out of seven for mexico.
The semifinal match was tough. The Netherlands controlled the game in the first half. However, in the last 45 minutes, Candido Ramirez, Raul Jimenez and Fabian all scored for Mexico, securing a 4-2 victory.
in the final, turkey did not pose a threat to the tri. Héctor Herrera was once again a valuable asset in midfield, while Ramírez, Mier and Alan Pulido gave the team a 3-0 victory.
As expected, Fabián was the top scorer of the tournament, with seven goals, and Herrera was named best player.
a worrying depression
mexico had never had this kind of performance before any olympic tournament. He knew that the team needed to be at its best, so he scheduled some friendly matches and brought in three older players: Oribe Peralta, Jose de Jesus Corona, and Carlos Salcido.
The good streak continued.
mexico defeated great britain with a solitary goal from fabián.
But just three days later, the tri lost for the first time in a month. With the help of Javi Martinez, Spain secured a 1-0 win.
japan also surprised mexico. the Asian squad was fast and unbalanced. Keigo Higashi’s goal was the result of a collective effort, while Yuki Otsu’s long-distance shot left the crown without a chance.
after three consecutive titles, mexico was far from the creative and explosive team that it was in previous tournaments.
the moment of truth
South Korea was not an easy opponent. a goalless draw showed that mexico was still shaken.
but this wasn’t the senior team; it was a team of young people with a new mentality.
And so the players got up and defeated Gabon and Switzerland, regaining the competitiveness and enthusiasm they showed in the past.
they showed it even more in the quarterfinals. Senegal overcame a two-goal deficit to tie the match. far from being mentally worn out, the tri managed to secure a 4-2 victory in extra time.
japan arrived, the same team that defeated them before the olympics. this time, mexico seized their moment and proved to be a team with depth and structure. fabian, herrera, salcido and mier were fundamental.
for the first time in history, the tri had secured a medal, but the players desperately wanted the gold.
oribe peralta took advantage of a rude mistake by rafael and put mexico ahead; he did it again in the second half.
Jose de Jesus Corona showed why he was the starting goalkeeper. he stopped all shots from neymar, leandro damiao and oscar. With great effort, Hulk defeated the Mexican goalkeeper in stoppage time, but it wasn’t enough.
mission accomplished. The Mexican anthem resounded at Wembley Stadium and the golden generation was born.
As with the U-17 squads that secured the title at the 2005 and 2011 World Cups, many of the U-23 players did not make it to the senior team.
Those who did were pushed out by footballers who play abroad or only entered when those players couldn’t travel from Europe.
Javier Aquino was one of the few who earned the coach’s trust, but quickly lost it because he wasn’t physically strong enough.
diego reyes had to wait until javier rodriguez proved to be out of shape.
raul jimenez is still hoping to be the undisputed starter, although he has been one of the most lethal players in the mx league, scoring 10 goals last season and adding six in the current tournament.
marco fabian has not appeared regularly.
many of them had the opportunity to win the 2013 gold cup; however, they did not perform well. Mexico lost for the first time in history against Panama; finally, the canaleros eliminated them in the semifinals.
what can be done?
there is no doubt that these players have talent. they are brave, not easily intimidated, and have a different mindset.
However, the coaches of the clubs and the national team must trust them and motivate them. several generations have been abandoned in the process, despite proving their level.
It’s time to give them continuity and stop thinking only in hierarchy. talent and mentality can change Mexican soccer.
The success that the U-17 and U-23 squads have had is the result of years of training, as well as the players’ drive to achieve bigger and better.
If the national team and club staff leave those things unattended, there is no way these players can continue their development.
if victor manuel vucetich trusts them, they will respond, in the same way they did to fernando tena in london.