Once upon a time… one of the most heated rivalries in North America went down to San Salvador, El Salvador as a struggling Mexico side attempted to get their 2010 World Cup qualifiers back on track against a feisty salvadoran side. It was a packed Estadio Cuscatlan on that 6th of June, 2009 that gathered around to support their country to their last breath and simultaneously create such a hostile environment for the dreaded mexicans that would make any rival uncomfortable.
The hatred between both countries can be traced back decades and its origin isn’t necessarily the sport. No country has the exact reason for their hatred but salvadorans claim that it originated from Mexico’s excessive and irrational cockiness when it comes to other Latin American countries. Along with that, salvadoran immigrants have been known to be treated inhumanely on their journey across Mexico as they try to migrate illegally to the U.S. On the other hand, Mexicans dislike their southern neighbors claiming it’s their excessive jealousy that turns into hatred. At the same time, Mexicans are also not big fans of the hatred they receive by salvadorans.
Regardless of the reason for the tension, both teams have been known to have violent and heated games throughout the years. Yes, historically Mexico has had more success and a bigger impact in the world stage, but El Salvador has also won a couple key matches. Their most notorious victory came in the 1982 World Cup qualifiers where the underrated salvadoran team eliminated Mexico from the Spain World Cup.
The 2009 encounter was no different. El Salvador had possibly one of their best generations of all time and was led by a fan-favorite coach who, ironically, was Mexican. It was a must-win for the central americans who were looking to qualify for their first World Cup since 1982. Fans from all over the country gathered around the stadium since early in the morning. Most of them had stayed up all night outside of Mexico’s hotel with drums, trumpets, cars, fireworks and anything that could make noise just to ensure that the Mexicans got little or no sleep.
The home crowd provided the high intensity that was expected from the start. Non-stop whistles and boos since Mexico’s national anthem was heavily booed by the salvadorans. Early in the first half, the whole country erupted as Julio Martinez toe-poked the ball into the back of the net after a great individual run by Rodolfo Zelaya. The host were deservedly ahead in the score but had more than 45 minutes to hold onto the historic result.
As expected, Mexico kept pressuring for the rest of the game but El Salvador maintained an impenetrable defensive wall that kept the score 1-0. However, a costly mistake by the salvadoran defense allowed Mexico’s Guillermo Franco to go down in the box for a penalty. Despite heavy pressure by the home fans, veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco stepped up and put the shot away to even up the score. As Blanco went out to do his signature celebration in the corner, bags of beer and urine rained down on the mexicans by deranged salvadorans who feared that the victory could be out of reach.
In the dying moments of the game, with everyone going forward, El Salvador got awarded a penalty after a cross deflected off a Mexican defender’s arm. While mexicans argued and pleaded their innocence, El Salvador’s Eliseo Quintanilla stepped up and demanded the ball. The country became paralyzed as every salvadoran was glued to their TV waiting for the kick. Despite all the shenanigans that Mexico’s keeper “el conejo” Perez and Blanco did to attempt to ruin Quintanilla’s concentration, the salvadoran stepped up and calmly put it on Perez’s opposite corner. For the second time in the night, the country erupted. Some fans cried of joy, other threw beer and others simply jumped up and down screaming goal at the top of their lungs. When the referee blew the final whistle, the country was finally able to breathe again. 90 intense minutes had resulted in a historic result for the Salvadorans.
In the end, Mexico, as predicted qualified to the 2010 World Cup. El Salvador, once again, failed to qualify. Nonetheless, the historic victory cannot be and has not been forgotten. As another chapter of this rivalry is fastly approaching, salvadorans often reminisce about that one magical night in San Salvador. When the heavy favorite Mexican team, came into the jungle and suffered dearly for 90 minutes and walked away with their heads down.
When these teams meet again on Friday, the result will most likely not the same as that night. El Salvador is far from their best and Mexico has since continued to grow as a team. However, best believe, the rivalry will continue to heat up and who knows? Maybe El Salvador, with some magic, can squeak out a victory like they did on June 6th, 2009.