This week marks the return of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers to Guadalajara as eight teams face each other for just two spots in the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo. It’s almost a year from when the tournament should have been held before both qualifiers and the Olympic Games were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 17 years ago, the eyes of the confederation were on Guadalajara and it wound up in for a wild ride. Mexico would end up winning the tournament at home, in a tournament infamous for things like Landon Donovan urinating on the field of Estadio Jalisco during a practice, Mexico’s crushing victory in semifinals against the United States, and the controversial victory in the Final against Costa Rica.
Here are all the goals of the tournament scored by Mexico in a video I put together (unfortunately any game of that tournament is hard to find so I couldn’t do one of the whole tournament):
The tournament was held in Estadio Jalisco and Estadio Tres de Marzo in Guadalajara. Mexico was placed in Group B along with Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Costa Rica. Mexico would play all of their games in the tournament in Estadio Jalisco. Their debut was against Trinidad and Tobago, which many thought was the weakest team they’d face but to the surprise of many Trinidad and Tobago shocked by scoring the opening goal with a long range shot that surprised goalkeeper Jesus Corona. Still Mexico dominated the game and just prior to halftime, they would tie the game with a goal by Ismael Rodriguez. The rest of the game was a monologue by Mexico and with goals by Mario Perez and Juan Carlos Cacho, the would get a 3-1 victory.
Mexico’s next game was against Jamaica and with a crushing start, Mexico would take a 3-0 lead by the 25th minute. Unfortunately for them, the forward duo of Cacho and Rafael Marquez Lugo missed a lot and they wouldn’t get another goal until injury time for a 4-0 win that gave them their ticket to the semifinals. Mexico closed out against Costa Rica where they trailed early but even when they tied relatively quickly with a goal by Luis Perez, the game would end with a 1-1 tie. The problem for Mexico turned out to be that because of that goal against Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica would have a 1 goal advantage which won them the group. Mexico qualified in second place and thus would face a tough United States team that had won all their matches.
In the semifinal Mexico would face a United States team that was lead by Landon Donovan and had players like DaMarcus Beasley, Bobby Convey, and Eddie Johnson. The game was filled with controversy, first from accusations that Mexico fans had chanted “Osama” in game, then in Mexico it came up when Televisa released a video of Landon Donovan urinating in the pitch of Estadio Jalisco after a practice. Mexico looked to have a tough hurdle but to the surprise of many, they would give by far their best performance of the tournament. In front of a supportive sold out crowd and after an even start, Mexico scored twice in a run of three minutes with goals by Rafael Marquez Lugo and Diego Martinez. The US would had a severe hit from the score, and the environment of a supportive crowd would weigh heavily on the US players - especially Donovan, who was MIA on that day. The second half saw Mexico improve a lot and with a goal by Marquez Lugo, Mexico got complete control of the match and in injury time, Ismael Iñiguez would score to end the match at 4-0. Mexico had booked their ticket to the Olympic games in grand fashion, and against their biggest rival no less. Here’s a look to the historic match.
Mexico closed out the tournament in the final against Costa Rica, who defeated Honduras in the semifinals to book their ticket to the Olympic Games. With only the title in play, Mexico’s level dropped off and yet they were still the better team. It was in controversial fashion however that they got the win. In extra time and with the golden goal rule in effect, a bogus penalty kick call was given to Mexico as the Costa Ricans protested and rightly so. Diego Martinez step up and converted the penalty for the 1-0 win and the title.
Under coach Ricardo Lavolpe, the U23 team had prepared itself for a while in the tournament, including a third place finish in the 2003 Pan American games. In a way it’s the same position Mexico is in now, with the current team taking the bronze in the 2019 Pan American game, although the level shown in that tournament wasn’t exactly the best. Mexico had a great team in 2004 and it looks to do so now, although the difference in quality between El Tri and other squads looks to be smaller this time. Mexico will come in with a totally different point of view after winning the 2012 gold medal, the biggest achievement by a Mexican youth team in their history.
The tournament will have fans in attendance, although because of the situation with COVID-19, crowds will not be as big as they were in 2004. Probably because of the 2004 experience, CONCACAF set up things so that the United States and Mexico will face each other in the Group stages and not in the semifinals. Although many people expect them to be qualified by the time they face each other in the third match day, a slip by either will complicate things greatly. Still Mexico will step up as hosts and would be slightly favored to win the tournament. Time will tell if we see a repeat of 2004 as they return to Guadalajara.