Opposition Feature

The Glory Days of Mexico

The Estadio Azteca in Mexico City held well over 100,000 fans when it hosted the FIFA World Cup finals in 1970 and 1986. Built more than 7,000 feet above sea level, the concrete cauldron has witnessed some of the most memorable moments in World Cup history.

With that level of passionate home support, it is no surprise to discover that Mexico achieved their highest-ever finishes in the competition on the two occasions they hosted the finals, as our opponents twice reached the quarter-final stage.

In their six previous appearances at the finals of the World Cup, Mexico had never made out of the group stages until they hosted the tournament for the first time in 1970. In fact, the side had only recorded one victory in 17 attempts, claiming a 3-1 win over Czechoslovakia in a meaningless final group game in 1962 when their opponents had already qualified for the knockout stage. Not to miss a Cymru connection, Mexico’s first-ever point at the finals of the World Cup came in a 1-1 draw against Jimmy Murphy’s side in 1958.

But the disappointment would disappear in 1970, and with the raucous support in Mexico City behind them, the side claimed a 4-0 win over El Salvador and a 1-0 victory over Belgium to build on their opening day 0-0 draw against the Soviet Union. Undefeated without conceding a single goal, manager Raúl Cárdenas would have been proud of the defensive display that mirrored that of his own playing career as a commanding central defender with the national team. Cárdenas was a veteran of three World Cup finals as a player, and played in the win over Czechoslovakia in 1962.

However, the dream would end at the quarter-final stage as Mexico suffered a 4-1 defeat to eventual finalists Italy, the great Luigi Riva scoring a brace. Switching to the relatively humble surroundings of the Estadio Nemesio Díezin Toluca, less than 30,000 fans were in attendance as the hosts were eliminated. Failing to qualify for the finals in 1974 and 1982, three group stage defeats in 1978 meant that the side would not claim another win at the World Cup until they once again hosted the tournament in 1986.

A huge home crowd at the Estadio Azteca witnessed Fernando Quirarte and the great Hugo Sánchezscore in the opening 2-1 win over Belgium before the side were held to a 0-0 draw against Paraguay a few days later. However, the side would celebrate again in the final group game as a solitary goal from Quirarte earned Mexico a 1-0 win over Iraq. Under the guidance of the wily Yugoslav manager Bora Milutinović, Mexico progressed as group winners.

Goals from Manuel Negrete and Raúl Servín then claimed a comfortable 2-0 win over Bulgaria, but agony would follow in the quarter-finals as eventual finalists West Germany progressed to the last four with apenalty shoot-out win after the two teams had played out a 0-0 draw in San Nicolás. Although Mexico failed to reach the finals in 1990, the team has not only qualified for every World Cup finals since, but has progressed through the group stages on seven consecutive occasions too. However, they are still yet to match their quarter-final highs of 1970 and 1986.

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