10 October 2005

Mexico ends soccer futility

Chivas fans

By David Agren

Mexico's under-17 soccer squad capped an improbable run last Sunday in Lima, Peru, winning the World Cup for its age group. It marked the first time the futbol-mad country claimed a world championship in the sport. Mural, a Guadalajara newspaper, summed up the accomplishment by saying in the lead paragraph of its Monday story: "(It) put an end to 75 years of mediocrity in Mexican soccer."

Making the win even more remarkable, the Mexican teenagers defeated defending champion and perennial soccer power Brazil 3-0 in the final.

The team's run captivated the nation's imagination and drew immense media attention. Some newspaper articles dubbed the young players, "Ninos Heroes," (Boy Heroes) a reference to the six cadets who died defending Mexico City's Chapultapec Castle against invading U.S. troops in 1848. Televisa broke away from its normal professional soccer coverage to beam in highlights of the Mexican squad's games. Jubilant fans crowded the Minerva glorieta in Guadalajara and the Angel de la Indpendencia monument in Mexico City after the win. Supporters also turned out en masse at Mexico City's airport to welcome back the team. The victorious teenagers later visited Los Pinos (the president's residence).

Mexico's victory bodes well for two of Guadalajara's professional squads, which haven't won a championship since 1997. Chivas and Atlas own the rights to nine of the 20 Under 17 squad members. Some legendary European clubs though, including Real Madrid and Chelsea, have expressed an interest in several of the young players.

Previous to this win, Mexico's biggest accomplishment was winning the 1999 Confederations Cup, a tournament for each continent's champion. The team, though, has mostly disappointed, despite usually having a high world ranking. Most recently, the men's team lost a 2002 World Cup elimination match to their northern arch rivals, the United States.

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