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WORLD CUP USA '94 / THE FIRST ROUND : When Teamwork Is Topic, Baron, Garcia Open Up

June 25, 1994|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

ORLANDO, Fla. — Before he became Mexico's soccer coach, Miguel Mejia Baron was a dentist. As it turns out, that was perfect training for Baron's postgame sessions with the press, where drawing any sort of lively reaction is like pulling teeth.

Take, for example, his comments when asked about forward Luis Garcia, who scored both goals in Mexico's 2-1 World Cup victory over Ireland on Friday.

"As you know, I don't care much about statistics," Baron said. "It was a victory today that is behind us, and I like to remind you that I like to speak only of the whole team. I don't speak (individually) of players in bad situations, or good ones."

Clearly, for Mexico and its hopes of advancing to the second round from the toughest group in World Cup '94, what took place Friday was a good situation. Garcia, Mexico's new star striker with the decline of 35-year-old Hugo Sanchez, scored in each half and each time after skillful ballhandling and passing by teammates had set him up.

On the first goal, in the 44th minute, fellow forward Carlos Hermosillo, his back to the net, shoveled a short pass toward a charging Garcia, who right-footed it on the run to the right of Ireland goalkeeper Pat Bonner.

On the second, in the 66th minute, Garcia drifted toward the middle as teammate Alberto Garcia Aspe controlled the ball outside the box and to the right of Bonner. Quickly, Aspe faked away from the Irish defender and, as Hermosillo had done earlier, passed perfectly to Garcia, inside the penalty area. Garcia beat Bonner to Bonner's right again.

So how did Garcia react to all this stardom? Much as his coach, the onetime drillmaster of Mexico City. "We have 22 players of very high ability," Garcia said. "I don't consider myself a leader, but a follower of a team that does things very well."

Clearly, there are no straws stirring the drink on this Mexican team.

"On my goals, I got nice delivery from (Marcelino) Bernal and Hermosillo," Garcia said. "And it was the same thing (the pass from Garcia Aspe) on the second. I had the good fortune just to be there."

Actually, Garcia had the good fortune to be where he really wasn't supposed to be. Until the last two games, he had played center forward, but in the last two games, including the 1-0 opening loss to Norway, he played on the right side. On both goals Friday, however, he drifted back to his familiar center position.

"I like the (new) position OK," he said, looking as if he meant just the opposite. "The coach puts me there and I don't complain."

Ireland should. Not only did Garcia get two goals against the Irish, he had two close misses and prompted the Irish to mark him so closely that defender Terry Phelan ended up with a yellow card after a collision with Garcia.

That was Phelan's second yellow card of the tournament, meaning he will sit out Ireland's survival game against Norway on Tuesday in East Rutherford, N.J. Also sitting out will be Phelan's running mate at defender, Denis Irwin, who also got his second yellow card, a silly one for delay of game in the 26th minute.

Garcia is one of only two Mexican national team players who play in a European league. He plays for Atletico Madrid in Spain and, having just turned 25, is fast becoming Mexico's star. He is replacing, in that position, Sanchez, who plays for Rayo Vallecano in Spain and who will turn 36 in July. Sanchez didn't play Friday.

"Hugo is a great player," Garcia said. "Hugo, or anybody who played, would have done well for Mexico today."

And so it went, with Mexico paying homage to the team concept and coach and player alike doing their utmost not to make controversial statements. But that didn't mean the entire proceedings were devoid of feeling or emotion. In wrapping up his press conference, Baron went out of his way to say how well his team played "with humility," that is, lack of overconfidence. And he seemed to trace that to his longtime friend, Bora Milutinovic, the U.S. team coach.

"I want to thank, for the lessons we learned from the United States, my dear friend Bora."

It wasn't clear whether Baron was talking about the inspiration of watching the U.S. upset of Colombia on Wednesday or lessons learned in their June 4 tuneup game at the Rose Bowl, won by the United States, 1-0.

What was clear was that Mexico was vastly improved Friday, even if the former dentist and his team didn't stand around afterward and jaw much about it.

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