In the World Cup food chain, Mexico falls somewhere in the middle towards the bottom, not as low as plankton but easily devoured by the predators. It’s scary down there.
So scary, the team tends to scurry around the field, once earning the unfortunate moniker “little green mice.”
They’ve borne the weight of the nickname since England’s 1966 World Cup when a prominent Mexican newspaper columnist Manuel Seyde likened their playing style to rodents spooked by a light switch and trying to hide their cheese.
Mexican fans can’t shake the fear they’ll go down in history once again as strong enough to escape the muck of CONCACAF and qualify for the World Cup, only to be squashed by bigger predators. In the last five World Cups the team made it to the second round before they were eliminated.
Failure and skepticism haunt Mexico’s followers, but the hopeful still pull on their green jerseys and dream of escaping the trap.
Now, after their win against Cameroon and a draw with overwhelming favorites Brazil, Mexico’s fans are even more confident their team will finally stop being “little green mice” in Brazil.
Seyde coined his term watching the Mexican national team’s style of play: “they seemed to run around a lot on the field, like little mice, instead of efficiently getting to the goal,” he said.
Over the years, the pattern keeps repeating itself. Even though Mexico in moments will play beautifully on the field, the team ultimately fails to put the ball in the net.
In Germany 2006 against Argentina, the Mexicans – led by the Argentinean coach Ricardo La Volpe – played an amazing game until a final, poetic goal by Maxi Rodriguez.
In 2010, the team shined in a dynamic match against Uruguay but ultimately lost, scraping through to the second round but missing an opportunity to enter as the group leader. In their next game against Argentina they ran and ran but this time only in circles and were eliminated with a devastating 3-1 loss.
Now the team debuted in 2014 with a big win and expectations are running high. This is nothing new for Mexico, they also opened Germany with a victory against Iran and in South Africa they beat France early on.
With the spirits of the entire country raised high before the daunting match against Croatia, it will still be hard for El Tri fans to shake dark memories from all the World Cups held in the southern half of the hemisphere.
Uruguay 1930, Brazil 1950, Chile 1962 and Argentina 1978: Mexico qualified but never once made it to the second round. They played 12 games, losing all but one. South America has been a nightmare for the little green mice – they only scored 11 goals in those dozen matches while their rivals amassed 38.
But the Brazil draw may have been conclusive evidence that the team has shaken off the weight of its history. Although the team's qualifying run through CONCACAF was marked with poor showings, let's not forget that this team has shown flashes of brilliance in recent years.
Most notable was Mexico’s first-ever gold medal in a team sport in London 2012.
Luis Fernando Tena, who coached the winning Olympic team, said the country’s spotty record actually served as an engine of inspiration.
“I was raised during the time of the ‘green mice.’ We played like never before, but lost like always. Obviously I wanted to leave all that behind,” said Tena.
The gold for Mexico was proof that hope springs eternal. To win the medal the Tri beat Brazil with all its stars. The soccer field is still a magical place where anything can happen, including advancement from a daunting group in Brazil. As the Mexicans cheering in the stands will chant: Sí se puede!
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