You may have heard this a million times, but it’s true.
We we were kings once. Rulers of a little kingdom, but still royalty at the end of the day.
I saw it with my own eyes. And I will tell this tale to my children and they will pass it along to their own one day, because a long time ago, we were Los Gigantes de CONCACAF.
In those days, we didn’t have players with fancy haircuts or europeanized deluxe bench warmers among us. We were simply a team with huevos and mullets. A crew that could crush mighty teams like Bahamas or St. Vincent in the blink of an eye. An army commanded by a colorful goalie who scored amazing goals and a Brazilian striker that missed them in the most wacky ways. Until the 9-0 score – the day Luis Roberto Alves (aka Zaguiño) went down in the history books of Copa Oro.
First of all, how did Zague even manage to get on Mexico’s national team? That is a question everyone asked then, and it remains unanswered. Need, maybe. Hugo Sánchez was in his downfall, Luis Miguel Salvador had two left feet, and Hermosillo didn’t stand a chance. While he wasn’t especially gifted or fast, Zague was a very specific kind of player. Every time he ran, you knew something funny would happen. For better or worse, he was our killer. And of course, he had a song.
Despite what Las Tropicosas have to say, I don’t remember Zague doing a zigzag even once, but perhaps it’s just because he played for América and I always rooted for the rival team, Club Universidad. Yes, he scored a lot of goals (most of them complete churros) but just ask an Americanista what they think about Alves being the club’s historical top scorer above legends like Cuauhtémoc Blanco or Enrique Borja, and you may get a clue of what Zague means to us.
He scored a lot of goals (most of them complete churros).
Unlike now, in those forgotten years, Mexico usually played in, um, you know, Mexico. El Coloso de Santa Úrsula was our fortress. My stepfather used to take me to the pitch every time he could. He was an Americanista, but still a nice guy – as nice as an Americanista can be, at least.
I recall watching El Tri with him many times from Estadio Azteca’s grandstand. We were trying to overcome dark times. Just a couple of years before, Mexico’s senior and underage teams had been banned from any international competition, therefore missing 1990 World Cup in Italy. That unfortunate event, known as the Cachirules scandal (in which FEMEXFUT fielded overage players in a youth tournament) is still one of the saddest moments in our history, mainly because the ugly side of Mexican football culture reared its head.
One day, just before a game against Jamaica, my stepfather brought me a La Verde as a present. It was that beautiful Umbro kit with a white collar and “Mexico” emblazoned on the chest. I rememeber how happy I felt, until I found that it had an 11 (Zague’s number) printed on the back. I was shocked. Why did he did that to me?
Everyone had a friend nicknamed Campos and another one called Zague.
Back in the 90s, when I was a kid in Mexico, everyone had a friend nicknamed Campos and another one called Zague. If you were the shortest of the class, you knew your fate. You were going to be called El Brody, and there was nothing you could do about it. If you had spiky hair, they called you Ambriz. Short in the front, and long in the back? Marcelino. Well, I’ll put it this way. Even without that horrid 11 on the back of my jersey, I was tall and clumsy enough to be nicknamed Zaguiño by the bullies.
As I said before, we were giants. I’m not being boastful. Back in 1993, Copa Oro was only an appetizer before next year’s World Cup, when we would hopefully play our most desired quinto partido. Still, we watched it. Because even though we were giants, we were champions of nothing. That’s why mismatches are so important. Mexico needed a morale boost and nothing is more inspiring than beating teams that aren’t even members of FIFA.
I remember the game against Martinica like it was yesterday. Ramón Ramírez sprinted down the left side, which you might remember Franck Ribéry once doing. Octavio Mora wore la diez and El Piojo Herrera still had a human form. But Zague, oh Zague! Let Huapango de Moncayo play this piece for me, my friends. I’m not going to diminsh his heroic feat by saying the Martinican defense was clueless or that none of their players were professionals. Once and again he scored, from anywhere he tried. Not once, but seven times. It was almost musical. He called it a day with his classic panzazo and a beautiful goal assisted by Alberto Coyote. A symphony of goals. As of today, he is the player who has scored the most goals in a single Copa Oro match. That day, Luis Roberto Alves made history. The same and only day I wore that 11 on my back, with a weird sense of joy.