Mexico guaranteed their spot in the final round of World Cup qualifying with their 2-0 win over Canada on Tuesday night. That's all well and good — advancing is always an accomplishment — but it was also a foregone conclusion. If they didn't advance then, they'd have advanced in their next match.
But one thing they did against Canada was take another step toward making Estadio Azteca a place where visiting teams come to die again.
There was a time when nobody won at the Azteca. Whether it was the 100,000 fans in attendance, the heat and humidity, the altitude, the smog or the aura that comes with being one of the most revered stadiums in all of the world, it was Mexico's ultimate home.
Teams went into matches at the venerable ground saying they believed they could win, but few actually believed it, and why would they? They were bound for a loss. Decades of history said they were going down, and they always did.
That all fell apart for Mexico in 2013. First Jamaica earned a draw in Mexico City. Then the United States did and Costa Rica did too. El Tri hadn't scored a goal in their first three home matches of the final round of World Cup qualifying, and somehow it got worse. They lost. Honduras upended them 2-1, and any remaining mystique and fear that the Azteca used to put into teams was gone.
When Mexico started this World Cup cycle, they had to restore that air of invincibility that came with playing at the Azteca. Being the better team matters most, and El Tri normally are that, but one of the biggest home-field advantages is a nice bonus. It's a massive bonus. And Mexico wanted that bonus back.
A 3-0 thumping of El Salvador in the World Cup qualifying opener was Step 1. Now, they've added a dominant win over Canada for Step 2.
A combination of skill through the midfield to keep the ball, dynamism and calm in earning and burying a penalty kick, not to mention a bit of magic from Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, had Mexico looking like the El Tri of old. And the large crowd chanting "Mex-i-co" so loud that it echoed — broken up only by cheers of "Ole!" — had the Azteca rocking like it used to, too.
Canada may have walked into the Azteca believing they could win, but they didn't look like a confident side a dozen minutes in. Not with El Tri running by them, the altitude choking them and the noise engulfing them.
Mexico don't need the Azteca advantage, but they certainly want it. They want to go back to the days of teams dreading the trip to Mexico City and barely believing they can win. That won't return overnight. The last cycle was too damaging, unraveling decades of mystique. But another dominant win, this time over Canada, is another step to bringing back the Azteca of old and making it a house of horrors. Unless you're wearing green, of course.