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Sanchez, Mexico still a bit unsettled

Despite a strong lineup and good fortune, team heads into quarterfinal with some questions.

June 17, 2007|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — Hugo Sanchez has two things going for him, both of which should have had Mexico's national soccer coach beaming on the sideline rather than ranting in the interview room.

The first is a roster of players who are the envy of virtually every other team taking part in the 12-nation Gold Cup. The second is extraordinarily good luck.

But while both have played their part in getting Mexico to the tournament quarterfinals, where it plays Costa Rica today, neither has brought peace of mind to Sanchez.

The coach's post-game news conferences have featured angry, expletive-filled tirades against the state of the playing surfaces at Giants Stadium in New Jersey and Reliant Stadium in Texas. Sanchez has used the poor-quality fields to deflect attention from his underperforming team.

Against Cuba, in its opener, Mexico got into a speed duel, fell behind but recovered to win, 2-1, as goals by unflustered veteran Jared Borgetti and exciting newcomer Nery Castillo rescued the Tricolor.

Against Honduras, Mexico got the lead on a Cuauhtemoc Blanco penalty kick, then saw Blanco red-carded for throwing an elbow into the midriff of Honduran defender Jorge Samuel Caballeros. Shorthanded and outplayed, Mexico lost, 2-1.

Afterward, a furious Sanchez said Blanco, whose short fuse is well known, had been goaded into committing the foul.

"He was being provoked all game," Sanchez said. "He was being spat on, and when he got spat on, he reacted. He lost his head. We know that many players look to provoke those players that they know have a hot temper.

"Unfortunately, he reacted with just a small blow, a small blow, but he crossed the line. You try to stay cool, but it's difficult. I can speak from experience. It's difficult when you're being provoked all game and they're spitting on your back and in your hair. It's very difficult."

Television pictures showed close-up images of Cabelleros' actions, but they were not spotted by the referee or linesmen and he went unpunished.

Against Panama, Mexico enjoyed some amazing good fortune to earn a 1-0 victory on a Carlos Salcido goal despite being completely out-hustled and outplayed by the Gold Cup's 2005 runners-up. No fewer than three Panamanian shots hit the post or crossbar and Mexico escaped, literally by inches.

Today, Costa Rica awaits, and Sanchez again will shuffle his starting lineup. He has used 20 of his 23 players in the tournament, with only captain Pavel Pardo and defender Johnny Magallon having played all 270 minutes.

Sanchez is 6-3 as Mexico's coach and already under fire. Some members of the large Mexican media contingent covering the Gold Cup have half-jokingly begun calling for the return of former coach Ricardo Lavolpe.

Sanchez's main problem, however, appears to be his defense, where the absence of Rafael Marquez of FC Barcelona has been keenly felt. The back line has shown itself susceptible to speed and unable to read developing plays quickly enough.

In the other quarterfinal, which follows, Honduras will play Guadeloupe, with the Hondurans favored to advance.


Times Staff Writer Kevin Baxter contributed to this report.

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