Around the world of soccer, 2016 has been the year of the Cinderella Story. From Portugal in the European Championships to Leicester City in the Premier League, the unexpected and seemingly impossible became the norm in the global footballing landscape. Fairytales like Wales and Iceland’s runs in the Euro’s coincided with Chile’s wild run to back-to-back Copa America titles. Leagues from Latin America to Europe and beyond gave us storylines that kept us coming back for more.
The personalities of the beautiful game we love so much placed themselves in our collective mind, and refused to leave. Players, managers, and fans alike took center stage in spectacular, strange, and unique ways throughout 2016. Keep it tuned to Soccer Nation, as we count down the 16 biggest stories of the year that was.
As we crack the top 10, we take our travels down Mexico way, as we spend a little time with the national team. Many have seen 2016 as a topsy-turvy year for El Tri, with the name Juan Carlos Osorio not always being uttered in the most positive fashion. Mexico compiled a stellar record of 11 wins 3 draws and 1 loss in fifteen matches this year. However, that one loss is still serving as a needle to the balloon of pride among Mexican fans, a loss so bad that Osorio is still being chastised. It took place in late June. It’s our tenth biggest story of 2016.
(For fans of El Tri still a little queasy about this one, feel free to move onto number 9. For the masochistic Mexican supporters and everyone else, enjoy our journey to Santa Clara.)
Number 10: “El Desastre”… Chile 7 Mexico 0
The day was June 19th, 2016. It will go down as arguably the most humiliating day in the history of the Mexican National Team. It was the day when their Copa America Centenario efforts came to a screeching halt. It was a day when a Chilean side led by Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, and Eduardo Vargas put on a masterclass performance that left Mexico bewildered and motionless. It was the day Chile beat Mexico 7-0.
Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara was the venue for what most Mexican journalists called a “pathetic performance”. From the very first minute, it was clear that Chile were the superior side. La Roja’s 1-0 loss to Mexico in a tournament tune-up friendly in San Diego less than three weeks before this match seemed like ancient history.
Osorio had already been under fire for his constant squad rotations during and in the build up to the Copa America. Just as one example, goalkeepers Jose Corona, Guillermo Ochoa, and Alfredo Talavera had all started a match in the three game group stage. It was Ochoa who was chosen for the quarterfinal knockout-affair with the reigning Copa America champions. Perhaps Memo wishes now that Corona or Talavera would have gotten the call. The fact of the matter is, there was no goalkeeper on planet earth that could have done much to prevent the utter bashing that took place on this day. It was men against boys. It was a top notch side hitting their stride as a customarily cohesive national team simultaneously collapsed.
In the 16th minute, Edson Puch put Chile in the lead with a well placed finish from an Ochoa parry. Puch was a late addition to Chile Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi’s lineup. He was to have quite the day, a match of bookends you may say. Just before halftime, Eduardo Vargas made it 2-0, capitalizing off of the laziness of the Mexican backline, pouncing onto a service before calmly slipping it past Ochoa.
The second half began with thousands in the stadium and millions around the world wondering what Osorio could’ve said to his team in the dressing room. The capitulation that followed had most of those people calling for Osorio’s head. Fans were almost begging for the final whistle. It refused to come. Instead, it was goal after goal for La Roja.
Alexis Sanchez scored just over three minutes after the restart, after another piece of gorgeous build up from the Chileans. Then it was to be the Vargas show, as the Hoffenheim striker proceeded to net three straight, giving him four on the day, and putting his side in a 6-0 lead. The sixth goal may have been the most humiliating of all, had it not been for the seventh. The few seconds of pathetic defending and goal mouth chaos combined with a clear lack of care from most every Mexican player, the sequence ending with Vargas roofing one from an incredibly tight angle. The game went from 2-0 to 6-0 in a span of 25 minutes. Most of the Mexican fans had already left the building when Puch knocked in his second goal in the 88th minute to cement the now infamous scoreline, and give Chile a magnificent seven.
It should be stated that Chile were absolutely flawless on this day, and that this match proved to be a true springboard for La Roja en route to winning the tournament. But take nothing away from the criticisms of Mexico. It was a disgraceful performance, and there were multiple players who appeared to quit before the referee’s whistle of mercy finally blew.
Where would Mexico go from here? Would Osorio stay in the job? How would they end what had otherwise been a pretty darn good year in 2016?
Number 9: The end of Dos a Cero
Osorio did stay in the job. Rafa Marquez (despite rumors of a fallout with Osorio after being benched for the Chile match due to him leaving the team to be with his wife who was giving birth to his child) stayed in the captaincy role. Life went on. The shadows of 7-0 hung over El Tri like a low gloomy gray, but the players moved on. They had no choice. How would they end the year? Well, they were given a great opportunity to end it on a high note when the schedule for the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying was released. Mexico’s second to last match of 2016 would be the hex opener away to the United States, in Columbus, a place where Mexico had never won and never scored in four tries, losing by the iconic scoreline of 2-0 on all four occasions.
This time was to be different. This time, curses were put to rest and jubilation was to replace heartache.
On a cold November night, Mexico defeated the U.S. 2-1. The way El Tri nabbed all three points was as poetic as it was sickening to U.S. fans. In the 88th minute of a game that had been relatively even, Mexico had a corner. Miguel Layun (the one man who was most commonly commended for “not quitting” during the shellacking at the hands of Chile in June) whipped in a great ball toward the near post. American forward Jozy Altidore appeared to momentarily forget that he was in Columbus, standing with his hands on his hips and taking a deep breath as the service came in. None other than Rafa Marquez, perhaps the biggest villain in U.S. Soccer history and arguably the most accomplished Mexican player of all time, came dashing toward the ball in flight. With one swift head swivel, the 37 year-old captain, who many think should be sent off into the sunset as far his national team days are concerned, knocked the ball past goalkeeper Brad Guzan and into the side netting, perfectly placed to give Mexico a 2-1 lead which they would not relinquish.
Now that “dos a cero” is done and dusted, what about Marquez? In many ways, he was a liability in the second half for El Tri, looking his age as the game ran past him. But from a dead ball, he reasserted himself as the ultimate hero, a warrior ready for more battles. The World Cup is 18 months away. Assuming Mexico make it (which is still a hefty assumption considering how the last hexagonal went in 2013), will Marquez be a part of the squad? Either way, his dagger of a goal in Columbus will go down as one of his greatest moments.