Sunday, June 23, 2024

Will Mexico win the Copa América 2024?

In Mexico, soccer is a religion. If the national team is participating in a major tournament, the entire country pauses whatever they’re doing to watch. 

After hosting the World Cup in 1970 and advancing to the quarter-finals for the first time in its history, Mexico established itself as a respected football country on a global stage. It was the first World Cup televised in color, which ended with Pelé winning his last trophy for Brazil, who was carried from Mexico’s famous Azteca Stadium

Pele wins the World Cup in 1970
Brazil’s Pele – considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, won his final World Cup at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca. (Wikimedia Commons)

Mexico’s reputation continued to grow, becoming a powerhouse in the North American CONCACAF region and consistently qualifying for World Cups. The country also hosted another tournament in 1986, best remembered for the audacious piece of cheating that was Diego Maradonna’s infamous “Hand of God.” Mexico’s second quarter-final appearance was a highlight for home fans. 

But with Mexico’s solidified football reputation came invitations to participate in other tournaments, like South America’s prestigious Copa América. 

Although it’s been eight years since Mexico last participated in this competition, performing well at the Copa América this summer could be the boost El Tri needs leading into the 2026 World Cup.

Mexico’s history in the Copa América

Since 1993, Mexico has been regularly invited to participate in the Copa América. In that time, they’ve gone head-to-head with some of the best players in history, including Lionel Messi, Neymar, Ronaldinho, and Diego Forlán.

Mexico's second-placed Copa America squad in 1993
Mexico’s second-placed Copa America squad in 1993. (David Patiño/X)

But Mexico held its own. They even made the finals against Argentina in their first ever Copa América appearance. El Tri collected another second-place result in 2001, and a handful of third-place finishes in 1997, 1999, and 2007. 

The 1990s and early 2000s were a notable era in Mexican football. It featured legendary players like Luis Hernández, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Hugo Sánchez, and Rafa Marquez. Naturally, playing against stellar football nations like Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, helped Mexico climb the world rankings. 

Six months prior to competing in the 1993 Copa América, FIFA ranked El Tri as the 25th-best team. However, by May 2006, Mexico reached an impressive 4th place ranking going into that summer’s World Cup. They were even positioned ahead of European powerhouses Italy, France, and Germany. 

Notable Mexican players and teams

After Mexico’s success in the 1990s and early 2000s came what many consider Mexico’s golden generation. With star players like Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, and Guillermo Ochoa, El Tri maintained its reputation as a top 15 footballing nation. 

Mexico enjoyed some memorable moments, including a handful of Gold Cup trophies and consistent round-of-16 finishes at the World Cup. The squad even won an Olympic gold medal at London 2012. Several players from Mexico’s golden generation also played at major European clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, and Manchester United. 

Giovanni Dos Santos
Giovanni Dos Santos enjoyed a career that saw him play in the English Premier League and alongside Lionel Messi at Barcelona. (Wikimedia Commons)

Despite the great talent Mexico had they have failed to advance to the semi-finals of the Copa America since 2007. 

With that in mind, Mexico sent the strongest possible team to the 2016 Copa America. Though they made the quarter-finals, they were eliminated 7-0 by Chile. It is still regarded as their worst major tournament defeat in history.

What has happened since Mexico last entered the Copa América?

For those who follow Mexican soccer, it’s evident El Tri has underperformed lately.

Mexico did have one shining moment in the 2018 World Cup when they defeated reigning champions Germany 1-0 in the group stage of that tournament. Success has since been thin on the ground, however.

Mexico national soccer team
While Mexico was once a force to be reckoned with, the last decade has seen the team tumble down the world rankings. (Wikimedia Commons)

With the U.S. and Canada catching up to Mexico in the last twenty years, they’re no longer the kings of CONCACAF. Mexico hasn’t beaten the United States since 2019 — something inconceivable for Mexican fans just ten years ago. 

Eliminated in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup for the first time since 1986, Mexico are struggling. But the country has young talent that could turn things around in the coming years with young stars like Edson Álvarez, Jorge Sanchez, and Luis Chavez.

Rising stars like Santiago Giménez, bring more hope to Mexican fans. Giménez scored the last-minute goal to win Mexico the 2023 Gold Cup, and is having a great season for club Feyenoord in the Netherlands. There are also rumors he might sign for either Tottenham Hotspurs or AC Milan. 

Edson Álvarez
West Ham’s Edson Álvarez is part of a new golden generation of Mexican footballers playing in Europe. (Edson Álvarez/X)

Hopefully, Mexico’s new golden generation will mature this decade. A strong team going into this year’s Copa America would be a great step forward.

Predictions for the 2024 Copa América

Mexico has been drawn in Group B in this year’s Copa América, where they’ll face Ecuador, Venezuela, and dark horses Jamaica in a round-robin stage. If El Tri finish second in their group, they could face Lionel Messi and Argentina in the quarter-finals. 

With the Copa América kicking off this June, Mexico is in with a fair chance of securing first place. Jimmy Lozano, Mexico’s current team manager, just announced his final squad for the tournament — leaving out Hirving Lozano, Raul Jiménez, and Guillermo Ochoa to make room for younger players. It indicates that Mexico is serious about performing well and is willing to take risks to give new talent opportunities to grow on a major tournament stage. 

If the team can top Group B, they will avoid a potentially tricky meeting with Argentina in the next round. But with countries like the United States, Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay also in the tournament, we’ll see how Mexico rises to the challenge. 

Ian Ostroff is an indie author, journalist, and copywriter from Montreal, Canada. You can find his work in various outlets, including Map Happy and The Suburban. When he’s not writing, you can find Ian at the gym, a café, or anywhere within Mexico visiting family and friends.

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