Mexico 1-2 Portugal / Angola 1-1 Iran

Well, they made their fans sweat. I’ll say that much for them. Mexico came within an inch of getting themselves knocked out, in spite of being seeded and, apparently, the fourth best team in the world (before you start complaining, this is FIFA’s view, and not mine). They didn’t even manage this in a “Group Of Death”. They managed to go to the wire against Angola. Those giants of international football. Fortunately, though, Angola threw away a win against Iran thanks to some lame finishing.

I’m thoroughly enjoying Mexico’s stay at the World Cup, because, in an era when everything else often appears to be becoming more and more homogenized, Mexico are inscrutably, indefatigably, defiantly mad. Well, they’re inscrutably, indefatigably, defiantly Mexican. But it’s the same difference. This is, after all, the country that gave the world tequila, chili, peyote and the sombrero. Why should we expect anything less?

What is particularly great about Mexico as that they are a good team, but still an unknown quantity. Almost all of their players are domestically based, and they can play, but are singular in the way that they do it. Against Iran, they were solid, then momentarily dire, and then outstanding. Against Angola, they couldn’t for all their attacking flair, break down a team of determined under-dogs. This afternoon, they showed their best and worst sides again. After twenty-five minutes, they were in serious trouble. First up, Maniche scored after a good run from Simao. Then, Marquez momentarily had the sort of amnesia that persuades outfield players that they are, in fact, goalkeepers and tried to punch the ball clear from a corner. 2-0. Simao, from the spot.

After this, though, we saw the Doctor Jekyll of the Mexico conundrum. They roared out of the blocks, completely outplaying the Portuguese, and pulling one back through Fonseca. From then on, it was almost all Mexico. Early in the second half, they had a chance to bring things back level after Miguel handled to give them a penalty. Almost aptly, Bravo launched the ball so high over the crossbar that it’s probably still rising now, and will probably end up in orbit around the earth. One day, children will ask teachers when earth acquired it’s second, smaller, Adidas moon. You heard it here first. Not five minutes later, they could have had a second penalty after Perez was bundled over in the penalty area. But things aren’t that simple with Mexico. The referee decided that Perez had dived, and sent him off. Meanwhile, Angola had scored through Flavio. Mexico were in danger out being booted out.

They needn’t have worried. As they continued to throw their players recklessly forward, Iran did them a favour and levelled things up in Leipzig. Eventually, it all petered out, as it filtered through that Angola would need three in ten minutes to put them out. Which Mexico will we see in the second round? The good Mexico, thrilling to watch going forward, would give anybody a game in these finals. The bad Mexico, prone to defensive errors and inexplicable mistakes will crash against anybody. Who can tell? They probably can’t themselves. As for Portgual, more stuttering and stumbling. The parallels between them and England are obvious – a creaking Galactico out on the wing, and a failure to score goals with the same regularity as they feel that possibly could. Having said all of that, they’re in the second round, and they did it with a game to spare. What a coincidence.

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