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MEXICO NOTES

Two Group G Coaches Just Speak Their Minds

June 11, 2002|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Mexico and Italy are bracing for Thursday's important Group G finale with mental stability on their minds.

After beating Ecuador, 2-1, Sunday, Mexico Coach Javier Aguirre praised his team's newfound mental toughness. After losing to Croatia, 2-1, Saturday, Italy Coach Giovanni Trapattoni defended his sanity in a contentious meeting with Italian media.

"I've not lost my marbles yet," Trapattoni said in response to questions about his lineup selection. "Do you think I didn't consider all the options for the team?"

Trapattoni has been criticized for abandoning the three-forward alignment Italy used during its undefeated World Cup qualification campaign, during which Francesco Totti played behind two strikers. Here, Trapattoni has played with a more orthodox two-forward line of Totti and Christian Vieri.

"We have seen the world champions play with three strikers here and lose," Trapattoni said, referring to France. "You can say, 'Well, if [Filippo] Inzaghi or someone else had played ... ' But these aren't the things that make you win. You don't win because you have one striker more or one striker less."

Aguirre believes a team succeeds during the World Cup by remaining mentally as well as physically strong. Toward that end, Aguirre began Mexico's pre-tournament training camp with 12 days of three-a-day practices--testing his players' resolve and focus.

"That's my first job, that's the part that I like," Aguirre said. "I love to work with the Mexican players and their minds. In the past, Mexico has had very good players, but sometimes we're kind of weak here."

Aguirre pointed to his head.

"So, we have to improve that," he said.

Aguirre was encouraged when his team fell behind Ecuador on a fifth-minute goal but didn't lose its poise. Mexico equalized it within 23 minutes, scored again in the 57th minute and then held its composure under considerable pressure as Ecuador pushed the Mexican defense hard in the final minutes.

"So, we must be doing it right, or what?" Aguirre said with a grin.

*

Mexico midfielder Gerardo Torrado, taking the Samson story and turning it on its head, believes he draws strength from cutting his hair. Torrado shaved his head just before the start of the World Cup, saying he did the same just before a crucial qualification match against the U.S. in 2001.

Result: Mexico won and went on to qualify for the World Cup.

Newly shorn again, Torrado scored only the second goal of his career with the national team Sunday against Ecuador--the go-ahead goal, a running blast from just outside the penalty area.

"It was only my second goal for Mexico, but it was the most important," Torrado said. "It is incredible to score a goal at the World Cup. I dedicate it to my family and my girlfriend."

Torrado knows Mexico will be the underdog. "We must not think we have qualified because [of the victory over Ecuador]," he said. "Italy will be very difficult for us in our next match, much more than the two we have played. We have to play to win. Or else we could be doing them and Croatia a favor."

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