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Mexico Wins, 2-0, Advances to Quarterfinals : Bulgaria Can't Muster an Offense and Doesn't Play Very Much Defense, Either

June 16, 1986|GRAHAME L. JONES | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — The signs that remain--a faded bumper sticker here, a tattered poster there--say Mexico Sigue En Pie .

They refer back to the disastrous earthquakes of last September, and what they mean is that Mexico is still standing.

And so it is.

Not only in a physical sense, but also in spirit.

No one who was at cavernous Azteca Stadium Sunday afternoon could doubt for one moment the resilience of the Mexican people, nor their capacity to enjoy what few pleasures come their way these days.

The peso may plummet, but there's always Pique.

And Pique, the sombrero-topped pickle that serves as the 1986 World Cup mascot, as well as all the other celebrants were in fine form Sunday as the month-long tournament staggered into week three with Mexico meeting Bulgaria at noon under a sunny sky.

By 1:45, the party was in full swing, thanks to spectacular goals by Manuel Negrete and Raul Servin that sank the colorless Bulgarians, 2-0, and sent Mexico into the quarterfinals.

The Bulgarians never stood a chance. Not only were they facing a much faster and more creative Mexican team, they also had a decidedly partisan crowd of 114,508 with which to contend.

The fans poured into Azteca in wave after red, white and green wave, armed with flags and banners, drums and trumpets, and a collective voice that shook the giant stadium to its very foundation.

The Bulgarians were doomed from the start. As soon as they marched out onto the field, they knew they had no hope. Afterward, their coach, Ivan Vutsov, said as much.

"We did not perform well today, but realistically we could not hope to win the World Cup," he said. "We could not hope to go any further than today."

Vutsov's counterpart and friend, Mexico's Yugoslav coach, Bora Milutinovic, expressed satisfaction with the victory, but cautioned against too much optimism. Mexico will face the winner of the West Germany-Morocco game in the quarterfinals, and Milutinovic sees a problem ahead.

"We did somewhat better today than during our first few games," he said, "but what's more important, we advanced.

"There are some serious problems in our defense. I saw that today, but I'd like to concentrate on the positive."

Doing that wasn't too difficult. Mexico's performance was by far its most positive to date. Although Hugo Sanchez once again was not much of a factor, Mexico's offensive showing and its almost complete domination of the midfield had to impress Milutinovic.

Then, too, both goals were well planned and excellently taken.

The first came in the 35th minute after an exchange of passes between Negrete and Javier Aguirre, the former Los Angeles Aztec. Accepting the return pass from Aguirre, Negrete executed a perfect scissors kick on the volley, and his shot gave Bulgarian goalkeeper Borislav Mihailov no chance.

Mihailov really had little opportunity to prevent the second goal, either. It was scored in the 62nd minute when Servin climbed above a pack of Bulgarian defenders to head Negrete's corner kick powerfully into the net at the near post.

To their credit, the Bulgarians did try to get back into the game, but they did not appear to have either the skill or the intense desire to win shown by the Mexican players.

In addition, when the Bulgarian attack managed to get a clear shot on goal, Pablo Larios was there to save the day. The Mexican goalkeeper, who had been criticized by some for his shaky performances earlier in the tournament, was in superb form Sunday.

Seconds after Mexico had scored its second goal, for example, Larios made a kick save on a fierce shot by Atanas Pashev that seemed destined to slip past him. Then, in the 75th minute, he denied Petar Petrov a goal when he punched clear Petrov's wicked downward header.

Two minutes later, Mexico again had Larios to thank, this time for flinging himself to his left to turn Anyo Sadkov's shot around the post for a corner kick.

The Bulgarians had waited too long to really make a game of it, however. They should have attacked more in the first half. Instead, they appeared to be sleep-walking.

To describe the Bulgarians as plodding would be to credit them with too much speed and imagination. They might have been the originators of the slow-break offense.

Not once during the first 45 minutes were they able to develop an attacking move that looked remotely like it might lead to a goal. On those few occasions when they ventured deep into the Mexican half of the field, their final passes went either astray or straight to a defender.

It was an altogether forgettable performance from a team that had reached the final 16.

Mexico, on the other hand, showed a willingness to attack down both flanks and straight up the middle, and Negrete's goal was its just reward.

"It was a shot that I don't try too often," Negrete said of the scissors kick. "The ball was centered toward me and I saw the possibility of trying a scissors kick."

That, in essence, was the story of the game. The Mexican players saw the opportunities and went after them.

The Bulgarians neither saw them nor acted upon them. That's why Mexico is in the quarterfinals.

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