It was moving to hear the American national anthem before the opening match at the World Cup. It seemed impossible, but the country had come out to support football.
We qualified for the knockout stages, beating Colombia, one of the favourites for the title, in the group stage. Unfortunately, we then lost in the round of 16 to Brazil, who of course ended up winning the trophy. We played a good match, but went down to a single goal scored in the second half by Bebeto.
These things happen in football. But we were successful with what we achieved. People were very satisfied with the job we did. And, most importantly, we had laid the foundations for the development of a league in the US. The start of what is today a great competition like MLS.
After that experience I went back to Mexico, and took part in the Olympic Games and the qualification phase for the next World Cup. We qualified without conceding any goals in eight matches. It was another sensational challenge having such young players – among them was Rafael Márquez, who was with the senior team in 1997 and would go on to play at five World Cups.
However, by the time the 1998 World Cup arrived I had taken on a role with Nigeria – another national team where I found a great cohort of players. We also got to the last 16, after beating Spain in the first match; a team that was among the favourites for the title.
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My last World Cup was with China in 2002. We achieved a historic qualification, with 12 wins and just one draw.
Unfortunately, at the World Cup itself, we couldn’t achieve the expected results.
It wasn’t that we were feeling the pressure of being in our first World Cup. It wasn’t that. We were a group with a lot of character.
But we did have problems with several injured players. I don’t like to make excuses, or even to look for them, but we didn’t have the whole team. You couldn’t have asked more of us. It’s difficult to achieve the results expected of you if you don’t have your full squad.