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World Cup Qualifiers Spark International Incidents

October 25, 2000|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A couple of weeks ago, Ancil Elcock's cleats made bone-shuddering contact with Cuauhtemoc Blanco's right knee, and the reverberations still are being felt.

Mexico, which plays the United States in a so-called "friendly" soccer game tonight at the Los Angeles Coliseum, has demanded that Elcock be banned indefinitely and also that he pay Blanco's medical bills.

That's because the Columbus Crew and Trinidad and Tobago defender's straight-legged tackle has sidelined Blanco, Mexico's top striker, for up to six months with a knee injury, jeopardizing the country's World Cup 2002 qualifying campaign.

Elcock was red-carded for the tackle and Mexico scored on the resultant penalty kick in an eventual 7-0 victory, but the aftermath has been anything but friendly.

Mexico's soccer federation sent a blistering letter to Jack Warner, the CONCACAF president, after the incident, saying in part, "This deed goes against every sporting principle and is a blow to the philosophy of FIFA."

Much the same sort of complaint is being voiced by Costa Rica this week in the wake of Guatemala's decision not to allow Costa Rican fans to attend the World Cup qualifying match between the countries Nov. 15.

Roberto Arzu, a Guatemalan soccer federation official, said he would personally make sure no Costa Rican fans entered the stadium at Mazatenango, adding that all fans would have to produce Guatemalan identity cards to be allowed in.

Costa Rican officials have pointed out that there was no such ban when the countries met in San Jose, Costa Rica.

"We gave [Guatemala federation officials] a safe place in the stadium, allocated 1,500 tickets for their supporters and [gave them] 50 free tickets," a Costa Rican spokesman said.

"We will hold Arzu responsible for any violation of the moral and physical integrity of the members of the Costa Rican team, its national symbols and its supporters."

It's evident that tensions are mounting as the final round of World Cup qualifying approaches.

So far, four countries have advanced to that round: Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago. Two others remain to be determined from among Costa Rica, Guatemala and the United States.

The U.S. plays on the road in Barbados on Nov. 15, needing a victory to assure itself a place in the final six.

Three teams from that half-dozen will qualify for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea after a home-and-home, round-robin series of matches in 2001.

Meanwhile, the mind games continue.

The U.S. has been playing a few of its own, lately. Before the Americans played Costa Rica two weeks ago, Coach Bruce Arena refused to reveal the U.S. roster.

The only way anyone could find out who was on the American squad was to attend the training camp in Columbus, Ohio. U.S. Soccer never released the roster, leading to loud complaints--not from Costa Rica, which could not have cared less, but from American journalists.

In response to those protests, U.S. Soccer has said it will do what it can to make sure rosters are released.

As for tonight's game, little will be revealed by the result.

Arena is using the match not as a warm-up for the Nov. 15 game against Barbados but rather as an opportunity to evaluate up-and-coming players.

The coach called 24 players into camp in Chula Vista last week, all but one of them from Major League Soccer clubs and seven of them veterans of the Sydney 2000 Olympic team.

The lone non-MLS player was Landon Donovan of Redlands, the 18-year-old forward who is pleased to be in the national team camp but no doubt is wondering just what the future holds for him with his German club, Bayer Leverkusen.

Donovan and another U.S. national team player, wingback Frankie Hejduk, are with Leverkusen, but the club this week fired its coach, Christophe Daum, after he failed a drug test that he had volunteered to take to prove that he was not using cocaine.

Barbados should not be a stumbling block, but every one of next year's 10 qualifying games will be a significant challenge.

Needing to build team depth, Arena called 13 players into camp who had never played in a full international match.

For Mexico, this will be the first appearance in Los Angeles by new Coach Enrique Meza, whose debut was the 7-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago that was marred by Elcock's foul against Blanco.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

U.S. vs. Mexico

Tonight, 8 p.m., Pay-Per-View

WHAT

International "friendly" match

WHERE

L.A. Coliseum

SERIES RECORD

Mexico leads, 27-6-9

MOST RECENT GAME

The U.S. won, 3-0, on June 11

at Giants Stadium.

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