It was the first venue to host the World Cup final twice, having done so in 1970 and 1986. It has seen two world youth championships, as well as welcoming the world during the 1968 Summer Olympics. In 2005, this venue held the first ever international regular season game in the National Football League. Until recently, though, it had been the house of horrors for the United States soccer team until August 15, 2012. Until this year, this stadium had only seen one major upset inflicted upon its hosts. This venue is the fabled and famous Estadio Azteca.
Over its history, Estadio Azteca has not only been the home of Mexico’s national team, but also prestigious sporting events that first began on May 29, 1966.
Two years later, Estadio Azteca hosted matches during the 1968 Summer Olympics (which happened to have been played in autumn). The stadium would be the site of all three group stage games for Mexico and Spain, with the former finishing fourth against Japan at Estadio Azteca. To reach third place, Japan defeated France in the quarterfinals at Estadio Azteca, before getting blitzed by Hungary 5-0 in the semifinals. Despite trailing 1-0, Hungary won the final at Estadio Azteca by defeating Bulgaria 4-1, and in doing so, managed consecutive gold medals at the Olympics.
Two years later, Estadio Azteca hosted 10 matches at the 1970 World Cup. The stadium was the site of all six group stages matches featuring Mexico, Belgium, the Soviet Union and debutants El Salvador. The Soviet Union won its group and got the privilege to stay at the stadium, but would be eliminated in the quarterfinals on a late goal against Uruguay in this stadium.
The next match in Estadio Azteca was a semifinal meeting between Italy and West Germany that was so thrilling, but the match has been dubbed “Game of the Century.” A plaque commemorating both nations’ performances stands outside to this date as a testament of two great teams at its time, with Italy winning the match 4-3. While West Germany finished third in this stadium, Italy was undone by Brazil 4-1, who had made history by winning its third World Cup.
In 1975, Estadio Azteca hosted preliminary and group stage matches at the Pan American games. For Nicaragua and Trinidad and Tobago, Estadio Azteca was a nightmare. Nicaragua lost all three games it played at Estadio Azteca, getting outscored 23-2, while Trinidad and Tobago fared no better, losing its three games in Group B, getting outscored 15-2. In the end, both Mexico and Brazil won the gold medal, after playing out to a 1-1 draw, while Argentina settled for the bronze medal after defeating Costa Rica 2-0.
Eight years later, Mexico hosted the FIFA World Youth Championship (which equates to the FIFA under-20 World Cup), where attendance throughout the tournament remains a record to this date. Mexico underperformed in its three matches at Estadio Azteca, finishing last in it group. Argentina throttled China in the group stage at the stadium, while the last three matches at Estadio Azteca finished 1-0: Poland defeating Scotland in the quarterfinals, before losing to Argentina in the semifinals, who defeated Brazil in the final.
Estadio Azteca got to host World Cup matches again, when Colombia pulled out of hosting the 1986 World Cup. In addition to hosting Mexico’s matches in the group stage against Belgium, Paraguay and Iraq, the stadium hosted the opening match of the tournament, when world champions Italy was held to a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria. Mexico and England won Round of 16 matches here, against Bulgaria and Paraguay, respectively.
Argentina had the last laugh however when it won its last three matches to win the 1986 World Cup. The quarterfinal meeting against England saw Diego Maradona with the infamous Hand of God goal and the “Goal of the Century.” In the semifinals, Argentina exacted revenge on Belgium, who had defeated Argentina in the opening match four years earlier. Finally, Argentina blew a 2-0 lead against West Germany, but broke the 2-2 deadlock to win the World Cup.
Thirteen years later, Mexico hosted the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup. Estadio Azteca hosted eight matches, which included the six group stage matches in Group A, featuring hosts Mexico, four time participants Saudi Arabia, and debutants Bolivia and Egypt. The stadium saw a dramatic turnaround for Saudi Arabia, who lost its opener to Mexico 5-1, with Cuauhtemoc Blanco scoring four goals in the match, and stormed into the semifinals after defeating Egypt 5-1, with Marzouk Al-Oitabi scoring four goals as well.
In the end, Mexico needed a golden goal to bring misery to the United States in the semifinals, before defeating Brazil 4-3 in a thrilling final at Estadio Azteca. Four years later, Mexico defeated Brazil again, this time coming at the 2003 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, winning 1-0.
On July 10, 2011, Estadio Azteca was the host of the final two matches of the 2011 FIFA under-17 World Cup. After six cities hosted 50 matches, two more matches would be played at Estadio Azteca. The third-place decider was a thrilling encounter that saw Germany come back from 3-1 down to defeat Brazil 4-3. After that match, Mexico made history against Uruguay, when its 2-0 victory made Mexico the first nation to win the FIFA under-17 World Cup as hosts.
Besides tournaments, three notable sporting events also happened in Estadio Azteca, with two different form of football. Coinciding with Hispanic Heritage Month, the NFL hosted a regular season match outside the United States on October 2, 2005, when division rivals San Francisco 49ers met the Arizona Cardinals met on ESPN’s Sunday Night Football. The match was played here, largely because both football franchises have largely Hispanic markets. But for the Cardinals, it was also a way to boost ticket sales, largely because its then-home stadium, Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, rarely sold out matches, and was the finals season for the Cardinals in Tempe.
The game started well for San Francisco, as they went up 14-0 after the first quarter. But much to the chagrin of most fans in attendance, Arizona won the game, largely in part to Neil Rackers, who booted six of his league-leading 40 field goals, as Arizona won 31-14.
But four years earlier, no upset was as shocking as Mexico’s first ever loss in World Cup qualifying at Estadio Azteca, when Costa Rica did the unthinkable: having only defeated Mexico four times in its history, Costa Rica won at Estadio Azteca. An indication that things were not going well for Mexico: two years after winning the tournament, Mexico was coming three losses at the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup, and its attendance against Costa Rica was not at full capacity. Still, Mexico was up 1-0, and led for most of the match, until Roland Fonseca tied the match in the 72nd minute. Fifteen minutes later, Costa Rica led on a goal from Hernan Medford, and stayed on for the 2-1 victory. That boost would give Costa Rica the confidence in qualifying it needed, and in doing so, won its qualifying group ahead of Mexico and the United States.
But more recently, another nation broke the curse of Estadio Azteca: the United States. There have been 24 failed attempts, which includes losing 4-0 in the 1993 CONCACAF Golf Cup final. But the United States won in Estadio Azteca for the first time on August 15, 2012. While it was only a friendly, the 1-0 victory had given the United States hope that with hard work, and sometimes luck, winning is not impossible. That match was of the United States most dramatic victories over Mexico since a Round of 16 meeting in the 2002 Worl Cup. The lone goal came in the 79th minute, as Orozco Fiscal scored his first ever goal for the United States.
Since that loss, Mexico has lost some of the mystique that Estadio Azteca provides, with scoreless draws against Jamaica and the United States as a testament. But for 50 years, Estadio Azteca has symbolized bringing the world from all borders.