Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mexico – one of the steadiest participants in the World Cup finals, but also a constant enigma. Even more so in 1978, for the country failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. Never a favourite, yet never an outsider either, as a rule Mexico was expected to reach the second stage of the finals and die there. That was the traditional maximum, still possible, with some luck, in 1978. So much for general predictions. There was little, if any, information about the team and its coach.

Jose Antonio Roca, 50 years old, was the coach for the campaign. Unknown outside Mexico, but well known as a player at home: Roca played at three World Cup finals (1950, 1954, and 1958), not a small achievement by any standard. At fifty, he was at arguably the perfect coaching age – experienced, yet not old enough to be unresponsive to new ideas. Most likely he was appointed precisely to bring the Mexican team up to date after the bitter failure four years back. And he delivered – not only qualified Mexico, but also presented new and modern squad. Which immediately unleashed the wrath of many – Roca selected young squad, leaving out many local stars. As ever and everywhere in the football universe, the coach was criticized for doing precisely what the critics asked him to do – building young , modern squad. Which immediately was considered inexperienced and risky. Not everybody thought so of course, so the views were polarized, but Roca stuck to his guns.
1   GK  José Pilar Reyes               12 October 1955 (aged 22)    UANL Tigres
2   DF  Manuel Nájera                  20 December 1952 (aged 25) Leones Negros
3   DF  Alfredo Tena                     21 November 1956 (aged 21) CF América
4   DF  Eduardo Ramos                 8 November 1949 (aged 28)  CD Guadalajara
5   DF  Arturo Vázquez Ayala        26 June 1949 (aged 28)         Club UNAM
6   MF Guillermo Mendizábal         8 October 1954 (aged 23)     Cruz Azul
7   MF  Antonio de la Torre           21 September 1951 (aged 26) Club América
8   FW  Enrique López Zarza         25 October 1957 (aged 20)    Club UNAM
9   FW  Víctor Rangel                    11 March 1957 (aged 21)       CD Guadalajara
10 MF  Cristóbal Ortega                25 July 1956 (aged 21)           CF América
11 FW  Hugo Sánchez                   11 July 1958 (aged 19)           Club UNAM
12 DF   Jesús Martínez                   7 June 1952 (aged 25)            CF América
13 DF   Rigoberto Cisneros            15 August 1953 (aged 24)      CD Toluca
14 DF  Carlos Gómez                     16 August 1952 (aged 25)      CSD León
15 DF  Ignacio Flores Ocaranza      31 July 1953 (aged 24)           Cruz Azul
16 MF Javier Cárdenas                   8 December 1952 (aged 25)   CD Toluca
17 MF Leonardo Cuéllar                 14 January 1952 (aged 26)     Club UNAM
18 MF Gerardo Lugo                      13 March 1955 (aged 23)       Atlante F.C.
19 FW Hugo René Rodríguez          14 March 1959 (aged 19)       Santos Laguna
20 FW Mario Medina                      2 September 1952 (aged 25)   CD Toluca
21 FW Raúl Isiordia                         22 December 1952 (aged 25)  Atlético Español
22 GK Pedro Soto                           22 October 1952 (aged 25)    CF América
Remarkably young squad – the oldest players: 28-years old defenders Ramos and Ayala. Very promising strikers – Rangel, Zarza, and 19-years old Hugo Sanchez, already appearing at his second major international tournament after the 1976 Olympic games. However, the brightest star was the midfielder Leonardo Cuellar. As a whole, the team appeared well balanced and having the wildest haircuts – rather, the lack of them – among the finalists. Some players also had a reputation for unusual behavior - the goalkeeper Pilar Reyes, for instance. Unknown team really, but when information was 'discovered' some commentators considered Mexico the hidden surprise at the finals, possibly going not only ahead, but may be even potential world champion. Young, talented squad, wild enough to play without brakes. And as far as hair fashion was suggestive during the 1970s, the wildest and longest hairs belonged to winners... Mexico was the team to watch.