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Soccer / DAILY REPORT

Mexico Tries to Close In on the U.S.

May 08, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Mexico, which has waited nearly 11 months for the opportunity, tonight gets another crack at the United States, which ousted it from the 2002 World Cup with a memorable 2-0 victory at Jeonju, South Korea, in June.

The significance of that victory -- or defeat, to view it from the Mexican perspective -- was enormous. It signaled a shift in power in this part of the soccer world. The U.S., long an underdog, was suddenly top dog.

To see if the shift is real or transitory is one reason why Reliant Stadium in Houston has been sold out for tonight's match, which will be broadcast live on ESPN2 at 5.

With more than 65,000 tickets sold, the crowd will be the third-largest ever to see the U.S. play outside California and the fourth-largest ever to see a U.S.-Mexico game on American soil.

Still, Mexico is viewing it as just another match.

"Playing this friendly match against the United States isn't about revenge," goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez told Associated Press. "We would only call it revenge if we were meeting again in the World Cup."

Both teams are coming off shutouts against South American countries, but with a significant difference. While U.S. Coach Bruce Arena's most recent game was a 2-0 victory over lowly Venezuela at Seattle, Mexico Coach Ricardo Lavolpe's team came close to upsetting World Cup champion Brazil in a 0-0 tie at Guadalajara.

Brazil is among the opponents the U.S. will face in the FIFA Confederations Cup in France next month, so tonight's game will give Arena the chance to gauge his team's standing.

Arena has selected a roster entirely from Major League Soccer teams and featuring 11 World Cup players, including Brian McBride and Landon Donovan, whose goals ruined Mexico's World Cup.

U.S. vs. Portugal

The U.S. will play another of the teams it upset en route to a quarterfinal place at the Korea/Japan World Cup when it faces Portugal on June 5 at Gillette Stadium at Foxboro, Mass., UEFA's Web site said.

The game has not been announced by U.S. Soccer.

Portugal, now coached by Brazil's World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, was beaten, 3-2, by the Americans at Suwon, South Korea, on the same date in 2002.

The U.S. plays New Zealand three days later at Richmond, Va., before leaving for the Confederations Cup in France.

Milan Derby

Italian neighbors AC Milan and Inter Milan, who share the same San Siro stadium, played to a 0-0 tie in the first game of a two-game European Champions League semifinal series.

Both teams missed clear scoring chances in front of a sellout crowd of 80,000, with AC Milan's Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko and Inter Milan's Uruguayan forward Alvaro Recoba the main culprits.

The teams will play each other again next week for a place in the final. AC Milan will be the "road" team that time, meaning that even a tie would allow it to advance.

"It's a small advantage that we'll try to exploit," Coach Carlo Ancelotti said.

The last time two teams from the same city played each other in the semifinals was 1959 when Real Madrid took on Atletico de Madrid.

Ronaldo Sidelined

Brazilian World Cup winner Ronaldo, who suffered a calf injury during Real Madrid's 2-1 European Champions Cup victory over Juventus on Tuesday, is almost certain to sit out the second game of the semifinal series in Italy next week.

"There is a 90% chance that he will not be able to play this game, but we will work with the remaining 10% with the objective of getting him fit in time," Alfonso del Corral, Real Madrid's chief medical officer, said.

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