IN THE HEAT OF THE AZTECA
US goalkeeper on playing in front of 110 000 Mexicans
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.