Mexico is wrestling with the humiliating prospect of missing soccer’s World Cup finals for the first time in a quarter century, with only two qualifiers left to reverse the team’s fortunes.
The crisis is so bad that the Mexican soccer federation is considering whether to name the national team’s third manager in just four days, while the media has shown little love for the players after El Tri lost 2-0 to their bitter rivals the US in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday.
“Tritanic” was the headline in Excelsior newspaper, while the Cancha sports pages said the team now needs a “miracle” to book their tickets to next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Meanwhile, the sports daily Record bemoaned the team’s “dreadful” showing in Ohio.
“The prestige of Mexican football breaks into pieces and the dream of going to the World Cup hangs by a thread,” it said.
The loss to the US, coming off the back of an embarrassing defeat to Honduras at home on Friday last week, put Mexico in fifth place in the six-team CONCACAF regional group and fighting for a spot in Brazil.
With only the top three qualifying for the finals in Brazil, and the fourth-placed team advancing to a playoff against New Zealand, Mexico will be out unless they fight back in the final two qualifiers.
The US lead the six-team group by a point from Costa Rica, with both nations already having qualified for the finals.
At the moment, the third spot belongs to Honduras, who have 11 points. Panama are fourth with eight points, level with Mexico, but ahead thanks to a better goal-difference.
Andres Guardado, one of Mexico’s leading players who stars for Spanish club Valencia, said he could understand that Mexico fans “don’t identify with what they are seeing.”
“I want to tell them that we are ashamed,” the winger said after the defeat in Ohio.
Guardado and teammates based in Europe, such as Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez of Manchester United and Giovani dos Santos of Villarreal, have come under criticism just over a year after Mexicans celebrated their historic gold medal at last year’s London Olympics.
Luis Garcia, who played for Mexico in the 1994 World Cup, said the current team’s chances looked dire.
“One must consider the real possibility that Mexico will not got to the World Cup. We can look at the scenarios and keep hopes up, but football-wise, Mexico is lost and mathematically out [for now],” Garcia said.
The Mexican soccer federation fired Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre on Saturday, one day after losing to Honduras in Mexico City’s imposing Azteca stadium.
He was replaced by his assistant, Luis Fernando Tena, who coached the Olympic gold medal team, but the interim manager said after the loss to the US that his future would be discussed on Wednesday.
In a section containing unfancied nations such as Panama and Jamaica, Mexico were widely expected to cruise to Brazil.
However, Mexico have only won one of their eight qualifiers to date, drawing five, and scoring a miserly four goals.
They now face a win-or-bust game against Panama at the Azteca on Oct. 11, before a final showdown in Costa Rica on Oct. 15.
Mexico last missed a World Cup finals in 1990, when the federation was banned from international competitions after using over-aged players in an under-20 championship.