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Mexico Can't Relax

Group G: Ecuador needs a victory more in second game. Mexico's Aguirre will coach Spanish club after World Cup.

June 08, 2002|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SENDAI, Japan — Mexico Coach Javier Aguirre's message to his players has been urgent if unoriginal: There's no tomorrow.

There's no tomorrow for Ecuador if it cannot beat Mexico on Sunday, there's no tomorrow for Mexico if it cannot salvage at least a tie against its Latin American rival ... although, to be perfectly honest about it, Aguirre's future is fairly set, win, lose or draw.

Aguirre concluded negotiations with Osasuna this week and has agreed to coach the Spanish club, for whom he once played, after the World Cup. Aguirre's resuscitation of Mexico's dead-in-the-water World Cup qualification campaign last year caught Osasuna's attention, and Mexico's 1-0 victory over Croatia apparently sealed the deal.

So Aguirre, 44, knows where he is headed.

The same cannot be said for his hard-working but limited Mexican team, which surprised many with its performance against Croatia. Now the second round is within sight, making a victory or a tie against Ecuador, a 2-0 loser to Italy in its opener, essential.

"They come in with a defeat," Aguirre said of Ecuador, "which makes them very dangerous, because there is no tomorrow. It's going to be a do-or-die match."

Mexico holds a 5-1-2 all-time advantage over Ecuador. The teams first played in 1970, but not again until 1993.

Aguirre said he wants to make sure his players guard against overconfidence.

"We have to maintain the mentality of winning, because this is a game where we will either win or die," Aguirre said. "I told [the players], 'Imagine if you had lost to Croatia. How then would we expect to come out? There's no tomorrow, so we'd be out to kill.'

"How do you think Ecuador is going to come out? Exactly like that. If you don't expect them to be that way, then we are in trouble."

Ecuador's loss to Italy was the country's first appearance in a World Cup. Ecuador qualified by finishing second in South American qualifying--behind Argentina and a point ahead of Brazil.

Aguirre said he was concerned by Ecuador's team speed because "it's better than ours. In addition, they handle the ball well and they have some scary players."

But Ecuador will most likely be without veteran midfielder and team leader Alex Aguinaga, who has not fully recovered from a thigh strain.

Coach Hernan Dario Gomez has announced he plans to replace Aguinaga in the lineup with Ivan Kaviedes, who scored three goals during qualifying.

Aguirre had two complaints about his team's performance against Croatia. He felt Mexico did not play well around Croatia's penalty area, failing to create scoring chances. And he was not pleased with how his players dealt with aerial balls, often giving up the fight in the air because the Croatians were taller and more physical.

Two additions to the eligibility list could help solve the first problem. Midfielders Jesus Arellano and Joahan Rodriguez, who sat out the Croatia game because of red-card suspensions, give Aguirre two new attacking options. He is expected to use them on the right flank, displacing either Gabriel Caballero or Sigifredo Mercado or both.

None of the Mexican players are going to grow six inches overnight, so Aguirre has emphasized in practice a more aggressive approach when jockeying to win headers.

"I understand they're tall, but we have to compete," Aguirre said. "Sometimes we didn't compete, and that worries me."

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