Mexico in the World Cup

by J. Patrick Greene
Publish date
30 May 2014
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Patrick is talking about Searching for the Aztecs in Mexico City as part of the Aztecs lecture series.

On 13 June, Mexico kicks off its World Cup campaign with a match against Cameroon in Group A in the group stage. Group A also contains Croatia and Brazil. Chances of a win against Brazil, the World Cup hosts, are not encouraging for Mexico. In three of Mexico’s 14 appearances in the World Cup these two teams have met, with Brazil scoring a total of eleven goals while conceding none. Mexican fans will be pinning their hopes on better results against Cameroon and Croatia. Mexico is lucky to be in the finals at all; after a series of indifferent results against other Latin American teams they scraped into the playoffs in which they qualified by beating New Zealand.

Perhaps the occasion will bring out the best in the Mexican team – and perhaps they will be inspired by a tradition of ball games that goes back to the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican civilisations. A ball game was an integral part of Aztec culture, with specially designed courts (or tlachtlis) placed in prominent locations in sacred and administrative precincts. However, it was not football. The rules required participants to use their hips and upper arms to keep the ball from touching the ground.

tlachti ball and ring Visitors to Aztecs can lift this replica ball - rather like a rubber cannonball - and imagine trying to propel it off their bodies and through the tiny hole in the stone ring.
Source: Museum Victoria

In the exhibition is a replica of the heavy rubber ball that the Aztecs used. Despite wearing a thick belt around the lower waist, injuries could result. Even worse, the game sometimes ended in human sacrifice. On the other hand, if a player achieved the near-impossible feat of sending the ball through one of the pair of stone rings high on the long sides of the court they were entitled to the pick of the possessions of all the spectators!

On their shirts, the Mexican footballers will wear the crest of the Mexican Federation of Association Football. The crest shows a football in front of the Aztec calendar stone, surmounted by the eagle that was part of the Aztec foundation myth.

When Mexico players have a home match they perform in one of the world’s largest stadiums, the Estadio Azteca. Footballers that play for one of Mexico’s leading clubs, the Pumas de la UNAM, have as their home ground the Olympic Stadium, which has on its exterior a huge sculpture designed by Diego Rivera with Aztec symbolism such as the feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl. Mexicans will be expecting their footballing heroes to rise to the World Cup occasion, inspired by the country’s proud Aztec heritage.

Olympic Stadium in Mexico City Olympic Stadium in Mexico City showing the sculpture designed by Diego Rivera.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria


Live broadcast of 2014 FIFA World Cup matches at IMAX Melbourne Museum

  • Saturday June 14th @ 8:00am - CHILE vs AUSTRALIA
  • Sunday June 15th @ 8:00am - ENGLAND vs ITALY

More about the Aztec ball game at

National Geographic: Aztec, Maya Were Rubber-Making Masters?

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