Ronaldinho squared off against Rafael Marquez and Mexico in the 1999 Confederations Cup final – both are still with their national teams as Mexico and Brazil prepare to square off for the 10th time in 10 years. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
It has been an all too common gripe among Mexico fans – their national team has a simultaneously wonderful and infuriating habit of playing to the level of their opponents. While it would be simplistic to solely attribute Mexico's successes and failures to that kind of adage, El Tri's recent record against Brazil measured against its performances elsewhere on the world stage hints that there might be a grain of truth in this generalization.
Since the turn of the millennium, Mexico has posted a 5-2-2 (W-D-L) record against Brazil according to FIFA's official website, an impressive record including a number of competitive matches, and one that Mexico will surely want to keep going strong when the two teams square off in Torreón on Tuesday evening, boasted by a full complement of players on a FIFA date.
It wasn't always like that, though – Mexico had posted a fairly abject 4-3-11 record in every decade prior. In competitive play at the senior level, Mexico had only won once, a 2-0 victory over Brazil to lift the 1996 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and even then, Brazil fielded a U23 side at that tournament. In three meetings at the World Cup, Brazil had posted three shutout wins (4-0 in 1950, 5-0 in 1954 and 2-0 in 1962), playing a major part in impeding Mexico's progress on the world stage.
After nearly four more decades of futility against Brazil – only two friendly victories and the Gold Cup win in 17 tries – Mexico transformed into one of the most difficult rivals Brazil would consistently face in the 2000s.
If you want to look for a watershed moment in this rivalry, it is not too difficult to find the exact date: August 4th, 1999. In front of a sold-out Estadio Azteca, Mexico posted a wild 4-3 victory over the Brazilians to claim the Confederations Cup title and become the first CONCACAF nation ever to lift the trophy at a FIFA-sanctioned tournament. While the Brazil squad at the tournament was young (average age of 23.45 years) and largely experimental (containing only two future 2002 World Cup winners: Dida and a 19-year-old Ronaldinho), the occasion and circumstances made it an iconic moment for Mexican soccer.
Not only had Mexico won a FIFA-sanctioned tournament, it had done so by overcoming a Brazil – frequent tormentors on the world stage in Mexico's early soccer history and a team that more recently had beaten El Tri twice in the previous month during the 1999 edition of the Copa América.
While Mexico has since failed to get past the second round of the World Cup in contrast to Brazil's 2002 win and two consecutive quarterfinal appearances, Mexico has not lost any of its sharpness when it comes to facing the Seleçao. The two teams have not met at a World Cup since Chile 1962, but since the 1999 Confederations Cup win, Mexico has posted a pair of wins over Brazil in the Gold Cup, plus wins in the 2005 Confederations Cup and the 2007 Copa America, both of which Brazil would go on to win.
In Torreón, the two teams will meet for the first time in a new decade, and Brazil will want to start how it finished the 2000s, when the five-time World Cup winners triumphed 3-1 in a friendly in Boston – only one of two victories in nine games played between the two in the last 10 years. Mexico, though, has no such plans, with the country's media expecting El Tri to continue its 'dominance' both recently and just on Mexican soil (4-3-2) against arguably the most famous team in the sport of soccer.
There will even be a pair of holdouts from that memorable 1999 match. Both Ronaldinho and Rafael Márquez were on the field for the full 90 minutes. Since that game, the careers of both players have intertwined heavily times as they traversed the world of European and international soccer. Teammates at Barcelona between 2003 and 2008 and frequent rivals wearing the shirts of their respective national teams, the two may be on the back end of their respective careers, but that is unlikely to diminish from the occasion on Tuesday night.
"I believe quality is never lost, and he has a great quality to his play, I always see him happy, joyous, and I believe that now he is still enjoying life and his football. It pleases me greatly to see him like this," Márquez said to mediotiempo.com of his former Barcelona teammate.
If Marquez's statement on quality holds true, then fans and viewers should be in for a treat tomorrow night. The encounters between Brazil and Mexico have rarely disappointed, and both teams will be looking to write yet another chapter in this entertaining tale.