Be forewarned: Mexico’s counting on a lucky number

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Be forewarned: Mexico’s counting on a lucky number

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The number four may be unlucky in Korean culture, but it sure is the key numeral for Mexico’s national soccer team as it heads into World Cup play in Germany this month.
Mexico is ranked fourth in FIFA’s standings and it is entering its fourth consecutive World Cup. It is paired with Portugal, Iran and Angola in Group D, the fourth letter of the alphabet.
And Leandro Arellano, the Mexican ambassador to Seoul, said reaching the semifinals would be a great accomplishment.
“We’re ranked No. 4 in FIFA, and if we could get to No. 4 in the World Cup as well, it would be excellent,” said Mr. Arellano in an interview with the JoongAng Daily.
Mexico has been one of the most solid, if unspectacular, teams over the past several years, and has flown under the radar mostly because of the stiff South American contingent, which includes perennial powerhouses Brazil and Argentina.
Mexico’s best World Cup showing to date is a pair of quarterfinal berths, and one of them came in 1986 on its home soil. Can Mexico hang with the big boys this time?
Mr. Arellano said the people of Mexico have “positive expectations” for their team.
“Thousands of fans have already flocked to Germany,” he said. “We’d like to get a good place in the World Cup, but we’d also like to see some good sportsmanship.”
The envoy said he has other sorts of expectations for the upcoming quadrennial competition.
“I think the World Cup provides not only the possibility of friendly competition,” Mr. Arellano said, “but [also] to allow people to exchange their cultures, traditions and ways of living.”
Speaking of exchange, the ambassador was effusive about what he called “strong political and diplomatic relations” between Mexico and Korea. Korean President Roh Moo-hyun visited Mexico last fall, and the two nations have since engaged in two rounds of discussions on signing a strategic economic complementary agreement, a watered-down free trade agreement with more focus on economic cooperation than on lowering tariffs. The third round is scheduled for June 14 to 16.
“Not only is the trade agreement what motivates the [bilateral] relations, it’s the most important part,” Mr. Arellano said.
Korea has begun negotiating for a free trade agreement with the United States. If the deal is reached, it will be the United States’ largest free trade pact since the North American free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, signed in 1993.
When asked what consequences the Korea-U.S. deal will have on Mexico, Mr. Arellano said while it is difficult to predict, Mexico stands to gain from the deal.
“Mexico and Korea are complementary economies, so our exports to the United States and what Korea exports there do not compete,” he said. “I am convinced that the openness of trade and investment in the whole region of North America would benefit Korea and the NAFTA region as well.”
Given the size of the economies of Mexico and Korea, Mr. Arellano said there are a number of other fields, such as culture, transportation, environment and tourism, where Mexico and Korea can promote more exchanges. He added there is no short cut to improving the relationship.
“I believe we as peoples have to get acquainted with each other and become more knowledgeable of each other,” Mr. Arellano said, adding there will be plenty of opportunities for that because technology has quickly shortened the distance between countries.
And with the reduced distance, the ambassador urged Korean tourists to visit Mexico to find out more about the country and what it has to offer.
“We have splendid beaches, magnificent resorts and first-rate food,” Mr. Arellano gushed. “And it’s not an expensive place to travel. We are trying to establish direct flight routes between the two countries to hopefully attract more Korean tourists.”
Those Korean tourists will likely find something else other than the aforementioned attractions. They will discover Mexico’s passion for soccer.
Just how excited is the Mexican public about the World Cup? Mexico will have a general election on July 2, just two days before the first semifinal is scheduled, and Mr. Arellano said some journalists there are already analyzing how Mexico’s World Cup performance will affect the voter turnout. Some election campaigns have sputtered in the shadow of the buildup to the World Cup tournament. Some candidates are trying to incorporate the sport into their campaign strategies by promising to watch their national team’s matches with the public, on large screens on the streets.
Though he will not be in his native land for the tournament, Mr. Arellano will be watching carefully as well.
“We have a well-prepared and well-organized team with world-class players,” the ambassador said. “I can’t venture to say specifically, but I expect we will have a very good tournament.”


by Yoo Jee-ho
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