By Andrew L. Dixon
Updated: March 22, 2005

MIAMI, FLA.—Virtually every nation still alive in World Cup qualifying is in action over the next weekend and into next week. But the most bitterly contested, the most heated and the most intense match will be played at 1pm EST on Easter Sunday between two teams that have never won the World Cup but have developed such a rivalry that game is starting to become almost secondary to the rivalry surrounding it.

United States.


Estadio Azteca.

Two nations that share a border, which borrow from each other socially and economically and whose respective national soccer teams simply don’t like each other.

Mexico has historically dominated this rivalry but let’s be real, the United States never took the sport seriously enough to field competitive teams. While Mexico was gaining the quarterfinals of World Cup held in their back yard in 1986, the United States was still in the midst of a 40 year absence from the World’s most watched sporting event.

It was not until the US qualified for the 1990 World Cup did they re-emerge on the international scene. Mexico was forced sit out for using ineligible players in a youth tournament and it allowed the US to gain passage to Italy 90 through the famed Paul Caliguri goal.

However it wasn’t until just before the 1994 World Cup held here that the rivalry began to take off. The US suprised Mexico 1-0 in LA in its last tuneup before the US went on to qualify for the knockout stages for the first time since the first World Cup some 60+ years earlier. This was followed by an absolute thrashing of Mexico at the 1995 US Cup. The 4-0 win at RFK that hot summer day was a celebration for US fans and a cause for mourning in Mexico. The US followed that with a win over Mexico in the 1995 Copa America quarterfinals and suddenly the Mexicans were finding themselves looking at these gringos (just an aside, are Black Americans considered gringos?) as a team to take seriously.

Contentious friendlies and tense exhibitions followed. Gamesmanship, slights and finally a kick by Ramon Ramirez to Alexi Lalas’ groin in a US Cup match signified the intense dislike for each side.

Pavel Pardo trying to provoke Eric Wynalda into retaliating during a qualifier.

Jeff Agoos throwing an elbow and getting red carded in the Azteca.

Eddie Pope spitting at Luis Hernandez in a Gold Cup match.

Mexican fans throwing things at Landon Donovan in LA.

American fans saying borderline racist things on Big Soccer’s World Rivalries forum.

Hernandez punching Tony Sanneh in the face in Columbus during a skirmish that broke out in 2001 and then pretending he was trying to break up the fight.

It all culminated when the US met Mexico in the Round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup. The US struck first through Brian McBride and the delivered the lethal blow with a Donovan header in the 2nd half. Cobi Jones came on the help finish the Mexicans off. El Tri (as Mexico is known for the 3 colors of their flag), who had been trying to provoke US players all game long through the threatening gestures of Cuauhtemoc Blanco and the diving of Luis Hernandez, showed their frustration at losing the Americans by committing hard foul after hard foul on Cobi Jones until Rafael Marquez, Mexico’s captain on the day, was sent off for his mid-air torpedo of Cobi. While the Mexicans sputtered and complained as the caught their flights home, the US moved on the quarterfinals where they outplayed Germany before losing 1-0.

The result has not been lost on either side’s supporters or players. Eddie Pope called the win over Mexico the greatest on field moment of the 2002 World Cup while Mexican fans feelings were summed up as follows: If we have to lose, please don’t let it be to the Americans.

So now the scene shifts to the foreboding Estadio Azetca, capacity over 100,000, altitude 7300 feet, for the renewal of the hostilities. Mexico almost never loses here, having tasted defeat only once in World Cup qualifying. The US has only managed to draw once here (0-0 in 1997, the Agoos elbow game) and has often been on the wrong end of some ugly scores. Both sides are bringing their big guns: Blanco, Jared Borghetti, Pardo, Jamie Lozano, Oswaldo Sanchez, and Marquez will match up against, DaMarcus Beasley, Donovan, Kasey Keller, Ed Johnson, Pablo Mastroeni, Carlos Bocanegra and maybe Eddie Pope (who’s nursing an injury).

This is North American football at its most intense.

Two growing rivals, each wanting hemispheric supremacy for themselves.

Locking horns in one of the world’s most historic stadiums.

This is Red Sox-Yankees on a global scale, the Lakers-Celtics of international football.



In a way, that’s all that needs to be said.

Enjoy the beautiful game