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MEXICO NOTES

Hernandez Says the Sub Way Is OK

June 07, 2002|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIKUNI, Japan — This wasn't the road Luis Hernandez imagined after scoring four goals in the 1998 World Cup, leading Mexico to a berth in the second round and a near-upset of Germany in the round of 16.

Since France '98, Hernandez became Mexico's all-time leader in goals scored for the national team, but also was a huge disappointment with the Galaxy, where he never fulfilled the team's wishful hopes that his presence would double home attendance and deliver an MLS championship or two.

Back in Mexico, Hernandez also lost his spot on the national team, an apparent victim of Coach Javier Aguirre's purge of over-30 veterans last summer. With so much talk of Aguirre wanting players willing to work hard and sacrifice personal objectives for the good of the team, the implication was that Hernandez had become too old and self-satisfied to earn a place in Aguirre's program.

His recall to Mexico's World Cup team in April was considered a surprise, even if the inclusion of a 33-year-old World Cup veteran with a knack for finding the back of the net made practical sense. Hernandez was Aguirre's first reserve off the bench in Mexico's World Cup opener Monday, playing 23 minutes in the 1-0 victory over Croatia.

At the team's training site in Mikuni, reporters asked Hernandez how he was handling his transition from World Cup star to substitute.

"In the first one, I didn't set out to become a star. It just happened and I'm glad it happened," Hernandez said. "I thank God that that happened.

"This time, I'm not worrying about things like that. I'm just going to enjoy being here with the team. Just being here gives me joy."

Except when it's meet-the-press time after practice and Hernandez keeps getting asked about what it's like to experience the World Cup from "the outside" this time.

"Yeah, it's different, but it's great," he replied. Then, bristling, he added, "I'm in the World Cup. It's something you are never going to experience."

Hernandez entered the Croatia game as a replacement for Cuauhtemoc Blanco, his former club teammate at Necaxa. Hernandez said he hopes to get some playing time alongside Blanco because "he knows me and we've played together for a long time, with the national team and with Necaxa.... In between good players and important players, it's always easy to get along with them and understand them."

Hernandez acknowledged that his new role has been an adjustment. As one of the team's reserves, he said, "We practice to play and to be ready in case [Aguirre] calls us. And, God willing, he takes that into account and puts us into the game.

"And if not, it's important to just be ready for the appointed time he wants us to play."

Still, his chemistry with Blanco during training scrimmages has Hernandez pining to try it while wearing the green of the national team, not just yellow practice bibs.

"Yes, it's good," Hernandez said. "But I hope we don't just use it in practice. I hope we can put it to use in a match."

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