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Pardo delivers to save Mexico, 1-0

June 22, 2007|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — Pavel Pardo on Thursday night did what every captain is expected to do -- he stepped up and saved his team.

After Mexico had struggled in vain for more than an hour to break down a lively and combative Guadeloupe team in the second of two Gold Cup soccer semifinals, Pardo finally achieved the breakthrough.

His goal brought a groundswell of emotion from the 50,790 fans on hand, part of it was delight and part was relief. Until that moment, it appeared as if Coach Hugo Sanchez's team might have to endure the same sort of overtime nightmare that it did against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals in Houston before prevailing.

Mexico's 1-0 victory means that the U.S., which edged Canada, 2-1, in an earlier game, faces an intriguing challenge in Sunday afternoon's final. Mexico has won the Gold Cup four times and has never lost in the championship match.

The Americans are three-time winners, however, and judging by the two teams' play en route to the final, they will come in as a slight favorite.

As it had done in previous games, Mexico struggled against what was, on paper, a weaker and less experienced opponent. But time and again its offense foundered on the gallant Guadeloupe back line.

And even when Mexico's attacking players found a way through or around the defense, Guadeloupe's Dutch-based goalkeeper, Franck Grandel, came up with the necessary saves. His instinctive block of a close-range header by Adolfo Bautista early in the second half was typical, as were excellent first-half saves against Alberto Medina and Carlos Salcido.

It got to the point where Mexico fans felt the need for a chorus or two of "Si, Se Puede," -- "Yes, We Can" -- in an effort to lift their team. Confidence seemed to drain away with each Grandel save or each shot that sailed high or wide.

There was little Grandel could do in the 69th minute, however, when Pardo, a 30-year-old veteran of two World Cups and one of Mexico's most experienced players, placed a perfect tailing shot high into the corner of the net from almost 30 yards.

The goal was particularly satisfying for Pardo, who this year not only became the first Mexican player to score a goal in the Bundesliga but outdid even that achievement and won the German championship with VfB Stuttgart.

The midfield leader had been suspended from Mexico's quarterfinal match. On Thursday, he demonstrated again why he wears the captain's armband.

On Sunday, he will try to lift the Gold Cup for a third time.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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