By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
A little over a decade ago, CONMEBOL decided to start including Mexican teams in its club tournaments after noticing the caliber of the Mexican soccer league, its national team and the potential revenue it could bring in. The move paved the way for Libertadores to add further competitiveness.
While no Mexican team has won the most prestigious competition on this side of the hemisphere yet, they certainly came close on one occasion and have consistently had many of its teams advance past the group stages. Cruz Azul lost on penalties to Boca Juniors in the 2001 campaign while in 2006, Pachuca took home the Copa Sudamericana, the UEFA equivalent of South America. The Mexicans' displays in both tournaments showed the under-appreciative South American teams and fans that Mexico is a force to be dealt with and that it would not lay down so easily to the continent's heavyweights.
On Friday, after Brazil's Sao Paulo and Uruguay's Nacional announced their refusals to travel to Mexico last week for the Libertadores first-leg matches in the Round of 17 phase due to the swine flu scare, the Mexican soccer federation decided that Chivas and San Luis, the Mexican representatives in this year's tournament, would withdraw from play and also said it would sever all ties with CONMEBOL. The federation, in a press conference, blamed the negativity and unprofessional attitude displayed by the Brazilian and Uruguayan camps.
Following this announcement, hordes of reporters, bloggers and soccer figures in Mexico came out of the woodwork to support and applaud the federation's decision for dignity's sake and also blamed South America's long-lasting bias against Mexican teams.
For years, Mexican soccer officials and teams have complained about shoddy officiating, deplorable treatment against their squads and fans as well as harsh and unnecessary suspensions against their players for alleged misconduct and related behavior. They've also insinuated that some results against Mexican teams were "fixed" in order to pair up dream matchups deep into tournaments.
At the same time, Mexican's counterparts in South America—the so-called minnow countries—such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay and Peru have faced those same hurdles for years against the giants. Sure, they don't boast the same amount of cash that Mexican companies do in providing sponsorships, revenue, etc. But those countries' fans have been subjected to discriminatory practices and there have also been instances where their teams played well enough in several matches only to have a questionable call against them retreat their chances for advancement.
And even last year, the Bolivian national team and its clubs faced the prospect of having several of its home bases in some high-altitude cities banned from competition after a Brazilian team complained to CONMEBOL about the effects it could have on players. CONMEBOL went to FIFA for input who initially placed a temporary ban before lifting that ban shortly after.
Strangely, though, in Friday's press conference, the Mexican federation thanked CONMEBOL for delaying the matches and its attempts to seek alternatives. But federation officials were miffed specifically at the Brazilians and Uruguayans as well as the Colombian and Chilean governments for rejecting CONMEBOL's request to host the Mexican matches. However, a second-division side in Ecuador did offer its stadium to the Mexicans but it was unclear if the Mexicans rejected that notion or if it was even considered at all.
The Mexican contingent never made it a secret that it was delighted with facing the top teams in South America year in and year out. Not only have these matches helped Mexican competition but South America has also enjoyed the competitiveness that Mexican teams have brought. It's a shame that CONMEBOL and Mexico couldn't amicably reach some sort of agreement because, in the end, both South America and Mexico lose on this one.
What do you think of this latest development? Did Mexico overreact too quickly to pull its teams? Did Sao Paulo and Nacional overreact to a health concern that looks to be contained? Is South America really afraid of Mexico? Are you hoping CONMEBOL extends invites to MLS now?
Share your thoughts below.