mexico

Men in Blazers Speak with Mexican Author Juan Villoro About El Tri's Chances at Copa America

Juan Villoro—author of "God is Round"—talks to Men in Blazers regarding El Tri's form heading into their Copa America quarterfinal match against Chile.

by VICE Sports
Jun 20 2016, 1:48pm

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This is an excerpt from the weekly Men in Blazers newsletter. Subscribe today. You can read all of VICE Sports' Copa America coverage here.

If Rog's dream comes true, and the U.S. advance to the Copa America Centenario final, they could face their fiercest rival: Mexico.

El Tri is in the middle of a staggering run of form. A sublime 80th minute run and finish from Jesus "Tecatito" Corona saw Juan Carlos Osorio's side draw Venezuela 1 - 1 to finish atop Group C and extend their unbeaten streak to 22 games. Their reward: a quarterfinal tie with Alexis Sanchez and Chile at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. [Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1]

Mexico has been buoyed by a raucous, ebullient fanbase that has allowed Chicharito and Co. to feel right at home behind enemy lines during the tournament. Of the five most attended games at Copa America thus far, Mexico has played at three of them, including a game against Jamaica at the Rose Bowl that saw more than 83,000 turn up.

Watch: Men in Blazers Continue to Celebrate the Copa America Semi-Final Bound USMNT

In this edition of Three Questions, we speak with Mexican author Juan Villoro, a writer with his finger on the the country's footballing pulse ahead of this weekend's match. His new book, "God is Round," is a beautifully written exploration of some of football's biggest stars (Messi, Ronaldo, Zidane), as well as a deep dive into more irreverent topics, i.e. left-footedness and the number 10.

MiB:

"God is Round" is a book that's less about sport and more about people's connection to it. Tell us how you went about choosing what you would write about and your process once you made that decision.

JV: A soccer fan lives among superstitions and looks for strange tokens to enhance his or her passion: If you use the same sweater your team is going to win! I have always been fond of the human ability to combine sports with the mysteries of the mind. The game happens on, but also in the heart and head of every single fan. As a writer I am more interested in the passion than in the game itself. That's how I collect my stories.

MiB: As your book details, you love football of every stripe. Copa America is in the knockout stages. Euro 2016 is in full swing. Tell us how you are experiencing this summer of soccer so far.

JV: Regarding Copa America, there were two gigantic teams in America: Brazil and Argentina. Uruguay came third, as the perpetual and nostalgic challenger that won the first World Cup. Nowadays we don't have an aristocracy of the game, just a middle class. Even the United States, who used to be an exotic country in soccer, have now a strong team.

Euro 2016 is another story. Before satellite television, we [North and South Americans] could believe that our players were fantastic; now you need to live in a very creative state of denial to think that your local team plays better than Real Madrid or Bayern. Euro 2016 is superior to Copa America, but you don't follow your national team because of its quality, but for a sense of belonging. Copa America is a reflection on identity.

MiB: What has been the biggest surprise thus far in Copa America?

JV: Brazil. When Dunga returned as a coach I wrote that it was not a medicine but a poison. In his first season as a trainer he tried to militarize samba. A fatal mistake. You can not fight against identity.

MiB: Many would argue Mexico has been the team of the tournament so far. Two wins and a draw in the group stage. A massive quarterfinal game tomorrow night against defending Copa America champions Chile. Tell us how you expect this game to play out.

JV: Chile is a great team. They play like a hyperactive Barcelona: an ultrafast tiki-taka. But age has taken its toll on some players, and Mexico has a chance. We don't have a single player like Arturo Vidal but our team has been gaining momentum by changing players and positions in each game. The concept seems to be more important than the protagonists, quite an abstract notion that, surprisingly enough, has become practical.

Mexico will hope Chicharito can help them get past a tough Chile team. Photo by Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

MiB: The level of importance of Copa America appears to vary team-to-team. In the U.S., it is paramount. In Brazil, it clearly was not a priority. Give us a sense of what winning Copa America Centenario would mean to the Mexican team and the Mexican people?

JV: From an emotional point of view, for us it would be like recovering Texas.

MiB: Mexico is unbeaten in 22 matches. On an impressive run in the Copa America. Is there a sense that the country is on the cusp of a new-era of football, or is it simply viewed as a run of tremendous form?

JV: After 22 unbeaten matches we are still skeptical and prepared to lose.Traditions die hard. But we also believe in miracles. Our brain prepares itself for drama and our heart is looking forward to celebrate carnival.

MiB: Best restaurant in Mexico City? What are we ordering?

JV: El Cardenal. If you like insects (the meal of the future) you can ask for agave worms. If you are more conventional you can go for green peppers filled with cheese.