Photo by: Henoc Kivuye
As Mexico and New Zealand are set to battle next Wednesday for a spot in Brazil’s 2014 FIFA World Cup, questions raised by Panama about the eligibility of Mexico’s Christian Gimeñez looked to put a wrench in the matchup.
Though senior Ben Meaders – an ardent U.S. soccer supporter – looks to see arch-rival Mexico fall short, he does not anticipate a happy ending for Australia’s neighbor.
“New Zealand is not very good on the world stage,” Meaders said. “I think it would be fairly shocking if Mexico still didn’t make it to the World Cup. But that being said, everyone is going to be rooting for the All Whites. Everyone’s a Kiwi on that day.”
Argentina-born Gimeñez played for his birth country previously in the South American U-20 Championship in 2001. He took the field for Mexico as a naturalized citizen in this year’s qualifier matches against the U.S., Costa Rica and Honduras. Regulations governing FIFA’s statutes states that any player who has already played in any “official competition” for one association cannot play an international match for a representative team of another association.
Gimeñez refuted the questioning, stating that FIFA previously signed off on his participation in the qualifying matches, and that the South American Championship did not qualify as an official international match for Argentina. Shortly after, FIFA rejected Panama’s official inquiry request, putting the matter to rest and affirming Gimeñez’s eligibility.
The teams who qualified for the World Cup as of now are as follows: Australia, Japan, Iran, Korea Republic, Belgium, England, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Costa Rica, U.S.A., Honduras, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia. Whoever wins the match between New Zealand and Mexico will qualify, and members of Africa’s CAF are currently in the final round to decide which five teams will make the trip to Brazil.
Sophomore Ricardo Chinchilla, a native of Costa Rica, saw a lot of support at home during their qualifying triumph over Mexico.
“At the beginning it was like, ‘No, we’re not going to win this game,’” Chinchilla said. “I mean, it was Mexico. But a lot of people in and around the country, they made banners and put them in the streets, so you could walk down the street and see banners saying ‘Go Costa Rica.’ So there was a lot of support from the fans – the last time we won against Mexico was like, 10 years ago.”
Despite star-studded teams like Spain being a draw possibility in the near future, Chinchilla remains optimistic about Costa Rica’s chances.
“When we play against big teams, we play well,” Chinchilla said. “I remember two World Cups ago we were in Brazil and we played really well. I think sometimes the players think, ‘This isn’t going to happen every year,’ and that makes them do better.”
In the North America, Central America and Caribbean qualifying matches, Honduras – who is making the trip to Brazil after toppling Jamaica – had their moments of tense play as well, according to senior and Honduras native Edwin Goodwin.
“The U.S. game in June, the first half was really tight,” Goodwin said. “I was thinking that if we tried a little bit more we could win, but it was like the U.S. all the way just killing us, so that was part of it. Another one that was really close was against Mexico back in March. We were losing 2-0 and then in the last 15 minutes scored two goals and tied up the game. It was tough, but we pulled it through.”
Except for the Mexico/New Zealand and African matches, the only scheduled games are unofficial friendlies. Honduras has one such game against host nation Brazil in the coming months.
While the system of the draw itself lends power to those teams with high-profile players – such as Spain’s Barcelona and Real Madrid-heavy squad, Germany, Brazil or Argentina – Goodwin sees the World Cup as more than just a competition for supremacy, but a source of national unity.
“I don’t think every team has a chance to win the World Cup, but I think every team has a chance to write their own history,” Goodwin said. “For us, history would be to qualify for the round of 16, or win a game … I enjoy the pride that you see fans have for their teams, their national pride. It’s really fun to sit down before every game to see how the fans and players just sing their national anthem out.”
Though the U.S. lacks a standout player like their European counterparts, Meaders sees the squad’s cohesiveness as their main asset in the days to come.
“No one’s going to be like Wayne Rooney, or Messi,” Meaders said. “No one’s going to be Ronaldo for us, but that’s OK, because the sum of our parts is a good deal more than just that.”
No matter how the team progresses in the coming months, however, Meaders noted that the World Cup is already improving soccer’s standing in the west.
“I’m excited to see soccer grow in the U.S. – this World Cup is kind of where it’s coming together,” Meaders said. “This is a huge time for U.S. soccer … like, if we do good in the World Cup, I swear, that’s good for every single team on the planet. Everything grows together.”
As qualifiers close, the road to June promises a World Cup no one will soon forget.