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The Magic of "El Cuau"

Let me bring to your attention a couple of things about the Mexican team before Friday’s opening match. I am fairly certain you have heard about Hugo Sánchez, the famous striker who owned Spanish football during the eighties playing for Real Madrid. Yes, Hugo was great: trained by gymnasts, his acrobatics remained unmatched in the box. His most famous goal, against Logroñes in 1988, still is one of the most beautiful in the long history of the sport (I challenge anyone who worships Zidane’s goal in the Champions League 2002 final to watch the above clip). Still, Hugo, a specialist but not a man to know the whole field, is not the best player in Mexican soccer history. That would be Rafael Márquez, who has won everything with Barcelona, where he arrived seven years ago after, yes, having won the French league with Monaco. Márquez is a talented midfielder moonlighting as a central defender. When in his prime, Márquez made as much of a difference for Barcelona as any other, including Puyol or Pique today. When Barca won the Champions League against Arsenal, Thierry Henry almost came to blows with Marquez who had been timely, precise and occasionally (shall I say beautifully?) violent when facing the Frenchman. Henry was furious, and he had every right to be. Marquez had been the better man, as has been the case with almost every match-up for more than a decade. Well: this will be Marquez’s last World Cup. Enjoy him.

But there will be another man who will be playing his last big tournament for the tricolor in South Africa. His name is Cuauhtémoc Blanco. You may have noticed him because of an absurd trick he invented while playing in Mexico a few years back. It’s called “la cuauhtemiña.” While doing it—naturally, only Cuauhtémoc does it—Blanco looks like a penguin awkwardly jumping while carrying an endangered egg. But Cuauhtémoc deserves to be known for much more than his awful trick. He was born in one of Mexico City’s toughest slums. And, in many ways, he has never left. On the field, he is a prankster and a provocateur, once famously imitating a dog and, after scoring, “peeing” on the goal line of the opposing team. His high-pitched voice and his slightly bent back have earned him much ridicule, not least from the press. But don’t be fooled: this chain-smoking, pot bellied old master of 37 has all the finesse you could wish for. “El Cuau” can change a match all by himself and deserves to be in a category where only players like Francescoli belong: those who can almost close their eyes and still feel how the game is moving. A few days ago, against Italy, Cuauhtémoc got a hold of the ball in midfield. Five minutes from the final whistle, he turned around quickly, fooling the hapless defender. His pass reached Medina, who beat Buffon, easily. Mexico 2, Italy 0. Cuauhtémoc smiled. He’ll likely come in as a sub in next Friday’s match. Enjoy him as well.