Mexico, which in two weeks begins its quest to win the World Cup in front of its own fans, was given a lesson Saturday in the realities of international soccer.
In this case, the lesson was that there are other teams--England for one--that currently seem far more capable of success in Mexico than the host nation.
On a warm afternoon before a Coliseum crowd of 63,770--the largest attendance at a soccer match in the Southland since the 1984 Olympics--Mexico was beaten, and beaten emphatically, by a team that showed superiority in all aspects of the game.
The final score was 3-0, but the margin of victory could easily have been higher had the English players not been affected by the heat in the second half. All three goals were scored in the first 45 minutes, two by Mark Hateley and the third by Peter Beardsley.
For Mexico, the defeat was particularly galling, coming as it did in front of Los Angeles fans who had not seen them lose at the Coliseum in more than two years--a streak of more than a dozen games.
But the Mexicans were no match for an English team determined to prove that it not only belongs in the World Cup but also should be considered one of the favorites to win soccer's quadrennial world championship.
All that might be troubling Coach Bobby Robson this morning is the fact that Monterrey, where England will play its first-round games and where June temperatures are usually in the 90s, is hotter than Los Angeles was Saturday. Yet the heat in Los Angeles caused Robson's players to wilt in the game's later stages.
Playing against a more powerful team than Mexico, especially if that team is accustomed to the high temperatures, could bring about England's downfall in the World Cup. Still, Robson was not looking that far ahead Saturday, preferring to dwell on the victory over Mexico.
"We played very well in the first half," he said. "We won it, actually, in 45 minutes of football. We won it on our first-half performance when our finishing was lethal.
"In the second half, the heat got to the players. It's the first time we've played in heat in a while. We aren't used to it. Until we get down to Monterrey and train there for 10 days and get used to heat, we're obviously going to sag. That's what happened. They just sagged; they lost their legs. But I can't go in there (the locker room) and moan about their poorish second half. When you get tired, you tend to look a bit ragged because your passing goes."
That was not the case in the opening half, when the English attack exposed gaping holes in the Mexican defense, holes that Hateley, for one, took delight in exploiting.
After both he and Bryan Robson, the English captain and no relation to the coach, had sent headers over the bar in the first 20 minutes--a warning of things to come--Hateley connected brilliantly in the 23rd minute, diving full length to head the ball past Mexican goalkeeper Pablo Larios.
Larios, making his return to the team after being injured against Uruguay at the Coliseum last month, seemed off his game, and it was not long before he yielded a second goal.
This one came in the 31st minute when Beardsley sent in a cross from the right wing and Hateley, rising head and shoulders above Larios' feeble effort to gather the ball, nodded it effortlessly into the empty net.
Six minutes later, it was Beardsley's turn. The Mexican defense was caught flat-footed by a through pass to the English winger, this time lurking on the left, and failed to react in time. Beardsley was left with the simple task of turning and slipping the ball past Larios, which he did to make it 3-0.
Mexico, playing without captain Tomas Boy, out with a sore throat, and star Hugo Sanchez, recovering from a knee injury, tried to make a game of it in the second half when the English tired, but the Mexicans never completed a scoring play.
On the few occasions when they did create an opening, they were foiled by either the strong English back line or by the superb performance of Peter Shilton, widely regarded as the world's top goalkeeper.
"Shilton has been magnificent," Bobby Robson said. "Whenever he's had to make a save to keep us intact, he's done it. He's just a terrific goalkeeper. He's shown the people what being No. 1 means."
In the day's second match, South Korea, also on its way to the World Cup, had little difficulty in defeating Peru, 2-0.