IN THE HEAT OF THE AZTECA

US goal­keeper on play­ing in front of 110 000 Mex­i­cans

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL - FIFA.COM

EVER­TON’S No 1 Tim Howard lined up be­tween the posts for his first taste of World Cup qual­i­fy­ing at the fa­bled Azteca this week when the United States re­newed their tense ri­valry with Mex­ico.

The 30-year-old shot stop­per took his po­si­tion at the base of a wall of anger and con­tempt, with ap­prox­i­mately 110,000 an­i­mated Mex­i­can fans send­ing shock­waves of noise and bile his way for a full 90 min­utes.

Like Tony Meola, Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller be­fore him, Howard faced one of the tough­est as­sign­ments in all of world foot­ball: Mex­ico at their Es­ta­dio Azteca.

The New Jer­sey na­tive, who was re­cently voted top keeper at the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup, spoke ahead of Wed­nes­day’s qual­i­fier in Mex­ico City that saw the hosts come from a goal down to beat the Amer­i­cans 2-1. FIFA.com: Last time we spoke was over a month ago af­ter the loss to Brazil in the fi­nal of the FIFA Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup in South Africa. Looking back, with a bit more per­spec­tive, what are your feel­ings about it?

Tim Howard: To be hon­est, my feel­ings haven’t changed much. We did some re­ally good things against some re­ally good teams (beat­ing Egypt and Spain be­fore sur­ren­der­ing a 2-0 lead against Brazil).

But on the other side we learned some harsh lessons. We played some of the best teams in the world and when you make mis­takes against those kinds of teams, you get opened up in a hurry. What makes the US-Mex­ico ri­valry so in­tense and so heated?

It's all about the pas­sion of the fans. For so long Mex­ico dom­i­nated our re­gion, dom­i­nated us. Now, and for some time, we have been the dom­i­nant team. So there's a lot of anger and hurt feel­ings be­tween the two of us. Let's face it, for they kicked our butts for a long time. And when the tide turned, they didn't like it. Why would they? It's just a pure and nat­u­ral ri­valry. Where would you rate this ri­valry, this Cla­sico, be­tween the two na­tions in the scope of world foot­ball?

Most peo­ple around the world, in Europe and else­where, can't re­ally un­der­stand just how big this thing is here. It's quite sim­ply mas­sive. That's the case with most of th­ese great ri­val­ries. How can you re­ally know how spe­cial River-Boca or Celtic-Rangers or Barcelona-Real Madrid is un­less you've been there and felt it? When you, as an ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sional, walk out of the tun­nel on a big derby day, whether it's Ever­ton-Liver­pool or USA-Mex­ico, does it feel dif­fer­ently, or can you bury those feel­ings?

As a hu­man be­ing, you can't com­pletely con­trol your feel­ings. Th­ese are spe­cial days for play­ers. If games like this didn't have spe­cial mean­ing then no one would get ex­cited about them, they'd just be like any other game. You can't al­ways put your fin­ger on what it is you're feel­ing on, but it's a spe­cial thing.

LAST LINE: Tim Howard rates the US-Mex­ico ri­valry as big as any in world soc­cer.

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