As the saying in castellano goes, “recordar es vivir”. When Mexico take on South Korea on Saturday, it will be the second time both teams in meet in a World Cup competition. For many El Tri fans, their first meeting in 1998 is one remembered with fondness and marked a clear before and after with the national team. The setting was Lyon, France, and like in every World Cup, Mexico’s first game was greeted with plenty of anxiousness and anticipation.
But why was this game so important? For starters, Mexico went into this tournament with more doubters than believers. Mexico’s tune-up games ahead of the World Cup weren’t exactly great and many thought a last place finish in the group was very likely. Things only got worse when El Tri suffered a slow start. As expected, Mexico took immediate control of the proceedings, but it was South Korea who took the lead midway through the first half with a deflected free kick. The moment produced a collective “I told you so”, but rather than go down, Mexico showed something that would go on to characterize them for the rest of the tournament, resilience.
A red card from the goalscorer Ha Seok-Ju definitely helped, but led by Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Mexico would find a way back into the game. Indeed, for “Cuauh” this game would mark him forever. This was his coming out party. Blanco pulled all the strings and did just about anything he wanted with South Korea’s defense. Blanco, of course, would go on to be arguably one of the most talented players in the history of Mexican fútbol.
Mexico’s equalizer finally arrived in the 51st minute when Ricardo Pelaez pounced in a close range effort from a corner to put things at 1-1.
Mexico weren’t done yet, and after more great play from Blanco, a 74th minute cross from Ramon Ramirez finished with Luis Hernandez scoring the go-ahead goal. Then ten minutes later, Blanco officially got on the stat sheet when he assisted Hernandez for his second goal of the night and sealed the three points for Mexico, immediately proving all the pre-tournament doubters wrong.
This is the thing about World Cups. They are in a way statement tournaments. To the footballing world, they end up being a representation of a country’s level regardless of what happened in World Cup qualifying or in any tune-up games. The importance of this game is that this brought into light what many would go on to consider one of the most gifted generations ever in Méxican fútbol, the same one that would go on to narrowly lose to Germany in the Round of of 16 and eventually win the Confederations Cup a few months later. This was the generation of Blanco, Hernandez, Jorge Campos, Claudio Suarez, Pavel Pardo, and Alberto Garcia Aspe. The generation that earned Mexico respect.
In regards to how it relates to Mexico’s game on Saturday, El Tri already wrote a bit of history by defeating Germany 1-0. That 1998 Mexico side didn’t stop after just one game, and this current Mexican side has to follow the same suit. There are a lot of parallels between both teams, and only time will tell if this current generation will be as influential. For now, another win over South Korea wouldn’t hurt.