Mexican supporters expect their team to reach the quarter-finals – anything else would be considered a failure. While Uruguay were one of the only teams whose FIFA ranking rose significantly (by six places) after they secured qualification, no one expects the group stage to be easy. However, coach Óscar Tabárez has been there before and insists his side have to fight (“in the good sense of the word”) all the way.
Tabárez is widely respected, this being his second spell in charge of the national team. While qualification was via the play-offs, he did at least qualify – something the country missed out on four years ago. Mexico’s Javier Aguirre has lost a bit of his aura after some questionable squad selections, but he’s still seen as the best possible manager that the team could have.
In terms of off-the-field interests Diego Forlán is kept busy by being Ibero-American sports ambassador as well as holding a similar position for Unicef. No such international honours for the Mexicans, although Israel Castro may yet become a cultural ambassador of some sort as he is known for trying to visit museums every time he travels abroad. Among his team-mates the most popular with the press is Andrés Guardado who likes to talk and is usually very honest in interviews. The worst is Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who is reluctant to be interviewed at all, then inclined to react strongly to questions he doesn’t like. Blanco is still the king of goal celebrations – the best known is a bow and arrow routine but he may also emulate a peeing dog or lay down on the pitch and look defiantly at coach Lavolpe.
The most famous former Uruguayan player working on TV is Enzo Francescoli, a legend in Argentina with River Plate and after whom Zinedine Zidane’s son is named. He’ll get away with saying whatever he likes, although he’s not likely to be too polemical. Sadly for Uruguayans, he’ll be on Argentine TV rather than their own. The opening match, as well as all matches from the quarter-finals on and all Uruguay’s games, will be televised free-to-air, along with nearly half the other matches, with the rest on cable. If the team get a surprise result in the opening match against France, Montevideo will probably grind to a standstill.
Usually Mexican TV stations are among the top five in terms of spending on World Cup broadcasts with countless hours of analysis and expert opinions. They’ve had César Menotti, Jorge Valdano and Gabriel Batistuta in the past, with Zidane and Luís Figo this time. Mexican players working as pundits are usually quite stiff and not very funny, with the notable exceptions of Luis García, who is really clever, and ex-keeper Jorge Campos, who doesn’t make sense at all.
Around 20,000 Mexican supporters are expected to travel. They will be singing Cielito Lindo, which means literally “my beautiful heaven” but refers to a woman, or shouting puto! (wanker!), every time the opposing goalkeeper takes a goal-kick.
Officially only around 500 Uruguayan fans will be travelling – mostly players’ families and friends – but more will have tickets through unofficial channels. Perhaps the most optimistic chant in the tournament, but one that is at least backed up by history, will be: “Uruguay, we want to see you crowned champions.” Sam Kelly & Martin del Palacio Langer