When Mexico faced the United States on June 17, 2002 at the 2002 World Cup in Jeonju, South Korea, few could have predicted the lasting effect one game would have for each side.

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Twenty years later, the aura and myth surrounding this match seems to have taken on a life of its own.

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The names associated with this match epitomize a bygone golden era for both teams: Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Landon Donovan, Rafa Marquez, Claudio Reina, Jorge Campos and Brad Friedel were club and country legends and served as witnesses to history. Today, in the clash of both teams, most likely on the American side will be Gio Reina, son of Claudio, and Efrain Alvarez, a native of Los Angeles and Three a star who was born just two days after the match.

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Meaningful phrases such as Fifth match – representing Mexico’s ambition to reach the elusive fifth game of the World Cup – and Two to zero deeply rooted in what happened in Jeonju.

US defeats Mexico 2-0 – most significant Two to zero the result to date in favor of the Americans has had a ripple effect that has shifted the balance of the rivalry. Just as importantly, the win bolstered US confidence in the upcoming matches against Mexico and gave the Americans, longtime underdogs in the series, the respect of their rivals.

Brian McBride put the United States 1-0 early in the first half, with Donovan helping to secure the result with a 65th-minute header.

“It made us believe,” Donovan said.

While Mexico’s Estadio Azteca remained an intimidating place for Americans in later years, winning the 2002 World Cup made the Americans feel, as Donovan put it, “as if we could beat them anywhere.”

In their 25 head-to-head matches since 2002, the USMNT have won 11 to Mexico’s eight, tipping the balance in what was once a one-sided rivalry. In addition, the US has won six 2-0 wins over Mexico since the Korea-Japan Championship, and both teams have won three title matches against each other at the regional level since that World Cup: Mexico has three gold medals. The Cup wins while the United States has two and the CONCACAF Nations League to boot.

Mexico has to some extent fought back and asserted its dominance in the youth categories over the past two decades, winning a pair of FIFA Under-17 World Cups, as well as gold and bronze in the Olympics, the de facto Under-23 World Championships. .

In later years, the aftermath of the 2002 World Cup and its historic result between the two North American titans also opened up a previously unseen battlefield for both teams: the recruitment of players from two national teams eligible to play for Mexico and the United States. Prior to the round of 16 game in South Korea, less than a handful of players had played for either team — since then, both sides have pursued a plethora of young talent in courtship more suited to college football than international. football.

Turning point

The beginning of the 21st century ushered in a new era in the CONCACAF rivalry. Before the two teams met in 2002, the US had quietly picked up momentum, with four wins in five meetings with El Tri in all competitions.

Donovan had taken a front row seat after one of those wins a year earlier. He was on the bench during the 2-0 qualifying victory in Columbus, Ohio. Two to zero. Donovan, who shares the all-time men’s scoring record with 57 goals with Clint Dempsey, realized that the tide was turning in favor of the United States ahead of the World Cup.

“It wasn’t just that we beat them in Columbus, it was how we beat them, it was so dominant,” said Donovan, now executive vice president of the San Diego Loyal of the USL Championship. “It was so dominant and it has never happened, of course, in the history of the rivalry.”

After the conclusion of the group game in Korea-Japan, Donovan and his teammates were “enthusiastic” about the match against Mexico in the round of 16 – no doubt intrigued by the opportunity to play on a neutral ground, devoid of the advantages of a home game. crowd or venue.

“You see each other as team against team,” Donovan said. “Because they couldn’t complain about Columbus, the cold and the snow. We couldn’t complain about the altitude and smog.

Donovan, who will become the best young player of the tournament, was very motivated. Knowing what was at stake, the promising talent decided to make a big statement.

“I definitely had the understanding, even though I was 20 years old, that it was entirely possible that we would never play them in a World Cup again,” Donovan said. “There’s a historical context here: if this was the only time we ever played them … we wanted to make sure we always had that win.”

After McBride’s goal, manager Bruce Arena and his team handled Mexico’s pressure well until Donovan landed a header.

The United States, overlooked by the football world and not taken seriously by Mexico for decades, has found a way to change the course of the rivalry forever.

“Mexican fans have cemented in their minds that this rivalry has become real,” Donovan said. “No matter what happens in qualifying, friendly matches, they can never, never, never take that away from us. It immediately gave us more credibility and I think it made the rivalry very real for the first time.”

Former Liga MX and MLS defenseman Greg Garza, who is of American and Mexican citizenship, played for the United States from 2014 to 2017 and made 10 senior appearances. Garza was 10 years old when the CONCACAF rivals met in 2002, and having grown up in the US as a fan of the Mexican Pumas, he admits he was heavily influenced by the national league across the border.

According to him, the US victory helped him understand what it means to represent the country whose colors he ended up wearing.

“You think back to how big Mexican football was back then and still is and how much pressure was put on this national team,” Garza said. “This country lives and breathes football. It was certainly a turning point in this rivalry. beauty of rivalry, passion and patriotism.

well deserved respect

Former El Tri defenseman and current Sportzshala analyst Paco de Anda, who played against the United States in 2002, recalled a difficult match for his team on a day when his teammates never thought about the consequences it would have.

“It was a bigger challenge than we expected and we never understood the magnitude of it,” de Anda said. “I think it was our own self-confidence that killed us and it was actually more difficult than we expected. That’s the first thing that comes to mind.”

The US followed the disappointment in Mexico with four wins, two draws and one loss ahead of the 2008 MLS All-Star Game, where former American midfielder Pablo Mastroni suddenly found himself wearing the same jersey as Mexican football icon Cuauhtemoc Blanco. World Cup rivals six years earlier were briefly teammates when the All-Stars defeated West Ham 3–2.

Mastroeni, now head coach of Real Salt Lake, noticed an “understandable respect for each other” when he spent time with Blanco.

Was there a connection with the US victory at the World Cup?

“Absolutely,” Mastroeni said. “The respect from this game and previous games definitely prevailed.”

There has been a “psychological impact” since 2002, according to Mastroni.

“At that time the El Tri lost their ability to be kings of CONCACAF, and [we] really started to show real strength and real ability not only to compete with them, but also to overtake them, as it were,” he said.