Given Mexico's great success in reaching the World Cup over the past 78 years, El Tri has plenty of heroes to boast about.
But the list certainly gets narrowed when you have to separate the wheat from the chaff. The criteria can range from a single game's performance, to or a series of matches over a qualifying campaign, or even decades of quality play.
Saying that, here are the 10 best and most memorable Mexican performances since they began trying to qualify for the 1934 World Cup:
1. Antonio Carbajal (1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966)
Goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal played in a record five World Cups (tying former German great Lothar Matthaeus) and for good reason. Nicknamed El Cinco Copas, Carbajal backstopped four World Cup qualifying efforts, but did not start for Mexico when it hosted the Greatest Show on Earth in 1970 --because he was 41.
Mexico dominated CONCACAF during that era and Carbajal's numbers, to put it mildly, are staggering. During four qualifying campaigns, he forged an incredible and near invincible 17-1-4 mark, surrendering only nine goals and recording 16 clean sheets.
At home, Carbajal was even better, not losing in 13 matches, allowing but only goals while putting up 11 clean sheets. He allowed only two or more goals three time. His "worst" outing was a 3-3 away draw with the United States during the 1962 qualifying run.
2. Salvador Reyes, Mexico (1958, 1962, 1966)
You might never have heard of Reyes until today, but he forged a reputation as a major thorn in the side of the United States in three qualifying tournaments. Reyes helped eliminate the Americans in 1958, 1962 and 1966. He made 49 appearances for the Mexican National Team, scoring 14 goals. Seven of them were against the U.S. The 5-7, 154-pound Reyes played for the great Guatemalan club sides during his tenure with the Mexican National Team. However, he could never duplicate his success during actual World Cup competition, going scoreless in nine matches over three tournaments. He scored three goals (33rd, 69th and 76th minutes) in a 7-0 rout at Olympic Stadium in Mexico City on April 7, 1957. He struck for three goals in two games in 1962 competition. Reyes scored in the 12th and 21st minutes of a 3-3 tie at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles on Nov. 6, 1960 and the second goal, in the 35th minute of a 3-0 romp in Olympic Stadium exactly a week later. And he connected for the equalizer in the 65th minute in a 2-2 tie at the Los Angeles Coliseum on March 7, 1965 in the1966 competition.
3. Jared Borgetti, (2002, 2006)
Borgetti, Mexico's all-time international scorer (46 goals), demonstrated his heading prowess, not once, not twice, but three times in two key appearances against the U.S.. On July 1, 2001, he headed home the lone goal in Mexico's 1-0 win. Borgetti took advantage of a botched offside trap in the 15th minute in Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Joe-Max Moore fouled Alberto GarcÃa Aspe 35 yards out on the right side. Aspe's free kick found Borgetti, who head home a 12-yard bullet. Since the U.S. backline pulled up for an offside trap, there was no one covering Borgetti, who had an uncontested shot. Mexico, 1-3-1 entering the match, needed the game more than the Americans did. A tie or loss would have sealed the Mexicans' fate as WC outsiders. On Sunday, Borgetti was up to his old tricks at Azteca, struck in the 31st minute, heading in a header from Jaime Lozano. JosÃ© Fonseca maneuvered past the defense and left the ball for Lozano, who headed the ball into the center, where Borgetti head it home from close range. Borgetti wound up in the middle of things two minutes later, winning a long ball and heading it to Antonio Naelson, who beat goalkeeper Kasey Keller for a two-goal bulge en route to a 2-1 win.
4. Francisco Javier Cruz (1994)
Needing a win to clinch a berth, Francisco Javier Cruz found the back of the net in the 83rd minute to break a 1-1 deadlock and lifted Mexico to a 2-1 win over Canada at Varsity Stadium in Toronto on May 9, 1999. El Tri became the first team --not including the host U.S.-- to qualify for the World Cup. Alex Bunbury, the father of Teal Bunbury, a member of the U.S. national pool and Sporting Kansas City --had given the hosts the lead in the 17th minute. But Hugo Sanchez equalized in the 35th minute. Imagine how embarrassing and disappointing it would have been had the Mexicans failed to participate at USA '94, just north of the border.
5. DionÃsio MejÃa (1934)
El Tri did not reach the 1934 competition, but it was difficult to ignore hat-tricks in wins over Cuba only a week apart in Mexico City. MejÃa scored within an amazing four-minute span in the opening half of a 3-2 triumph on March 4, 1934. He tallied in the 12th, 14th and 16th minutes. On March 11, MejÃa was at it again. This time, however, he spread out his goals this time and had some help as well in a 5-0 victory. MejÃa found the back of the net in the 31st, 40th and 79th minutes. In case you were wondering, Mexico failed to reach the World Cup when it dropped a 4-2 decision to the U.S. --the first time time these two neighbors met internationally-- only days prior to the kickoff of the tournament in Rome.
6. CuauhtÃ©moc Blanco (2002)
Needing a win in its final qualifier against Honduras to book a spot in Korea/Japan, the Mexicans kept a partisan crowd at Azteca Stadium on the edge of its seats for more than an hour before Blanco finally broke the ice in the 65th minute. After Juan Francisco Palencia tallied nine minutes later, Blanco put the finishing touches on a 3-0 victory with a goal in the 78th minute.
7. Octavio Mucino (1974)
Mucino struck for four goals in 50 minutes of the Mexicans' 8-0 rout of the Dutch Antilles in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Dec. 8, 1973. He scored in the 32nd, 45th, 46th and 82nd minutes. Mucino and his teammates, however, could not produce much more magic the rest of the qualifying competition as Mexico failed to reach the World Cup after advancing to the past six tournaments.
8. Carlos Hermosillo (1994)
He is the only player to have been listed twice. He is cited for his four-goal total in an 11-0 win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines in Mexico City on Dec. 6, 1992. He beat the opposing goalkeeper in the 14th, 23rd, 76th and 80th minutes. As it turned out, the striker was not the only player to register a hat-trick in the match. Francisco Uribe (fifth, 38th and 88th minutes) and Marcelino Bernal (30th, 56th and 71st minutes) also pulled off the heat.
9. Miguel Sabah (2009)
Had he not scored in the 82nd minute of El Tri's 2-1 win over the hated U.S. at Azteca Stadium on Aug. 12, 2009, the Americans might have tied, or perhaps recorded its first victory ever at the Mexico City stadium. A crowd of 104,499 watched speedster Charlie Davies give the visitors a rare 1-0 lead before Israel Castro tied things up 10 minutes later.
10. Carlos Hermosillo, (1998)
The former LA Galaxy forward was the recipient of a gift when U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller mis-kicked the ball right to him. Only 39 seconds into the confrontation on April 20, 1997, defender Alexi Lalas sent a back pass to the usually reliable Keller in the six-yard box. Keller, who did not notice that the striker was lurking some eight yards to his right, tried to clear the ball. The ball bounded off the Mexican's head and into the goal. "I think it got him in the back of his head," Keller said. "He didn't known what hit him. You do that 100 times and it wouldn't happen again. The ball had eyes."
Michael Lewis, who has covered eight World Cups and has been reporting about soccer for four decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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