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Brazil is too much for Mexico to handle

Kleber, Kaka, Afonso score to erase an early deficit and carry the South American power to a 3-1 victory.

September 13, 2007|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The future of Mexican soccer may be bright. But that doesn't mean there won't be dark periods along the way.

Take Wednesday night for example. Playing in front of a raucous pro-Brazil crowd of 67,584 at Gillette Stadium, Mexico was brilliant at times.

At others, they were downright awful.

And while that added up to a 3-1 loss to the top-ranked team in the world, the result on the scoreboard wasn't the only one Coach Hugo Sanchez, tasked with rebuilding Mexican soccer, was focused on.

"This game served us as if we had played five times against Panama or against some other team," said Sanchez, whose players, nearly half of whom are 21 or younger, was believed to be the youngest Mexico has sent against Brazil in at least a quarter century. "We learned a lot. The conclusions were good. And numerous. There were a lot of things we took from this game that will make us better."

"We're not content with the results," he added "but with . . . the fact we're getting better."

Although Brazil's aggressive attack dominated play all night, Mexico actually drew first blood, scoring in the 43rd minute when 20-year-old Andres Guardado took a pass from Nery Castillo on the left wing, lured Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar away from the net and then slipped a pass across the front of the goal to a wide-open Juan Carlos Cacho, who tapped it home.

Brazil answered off a corner kick less than a minute and a half later with Ronaldinho bending a pass right in front of the Mexican net for Kleber, who stuck his left foot out from the middle of three defenders to redirect the ball past a diving Guillermo Ochoa. That score was Brazil's first against Mexico in more than three years.

But then Mexico hadn't faced this Brazilian team recently. The team Mexico surprised 2-0 in the Copa America two months ago, for example, was missing Ronaldinho, who set up the first goal, and Kaka, who scored the second, taking advantage of a poor clearance by Mexican captain Rafael Marquez in the 80th minute to ruin what otherwise was a stellar performance by Ochoa.

Afonso then scored an insurance goal in the 86th minute, getting behind the Mexican defense to run down a pass and left-foot a rocket just inside the left post.

Mexican prodigy Giovani dos Santos, 18, replaced Cacho in the 74th minute but was not a factor.

Despite the three goals -- only the second time in 21 matches under Sanchez that Mexico has given up more than two scores -- the 22-year-old Ochoa was dazzling in the nets, especially in the early going when he helped turn back five promising scoring chances in the first 17 minutes. He made one more big save in the 70th minute, stopping a header by Dracena Edu to preserve a 1-1 tie.

Ten minutes later, though, the roof caved in. But like Sanchez, Ochoa came away feeling positive despite the result.

"Games like this help us a lot," he said. "These are the kind of games that you always want to play. It makes you want to work to get to the level of Brazil."

Mexico wasn't the only team using Wednesday's game to rebuild for the future, though. After last year's World Cup disappointment, when it lost to France in the quarterfinals, Brazil cleaned house, replacing coach Carlos Alberto Parreira with Dunga, a former national team defenseman noted for his no-nonsense style. Only four starters survived the resultant purge to start in Wednesday's match, part of a streak of 28 consecutive road internationals Brazil is playing in preparation for next month's first home qualifier for the 2010 World Cup.

"You always need a mix" of young and old, Dunga said. "This isn't the first time we've done that. There are still things to work on. But we know we have all the elements."

One thing they've already learned: Don't overlook Mexico, which until Wednesday had lost to Brazil only once in seven meetings since 1999. There was no complacency on the Brazilian side in this "friendly" with Dunga and Elano getting ejected, while Ronaldinho, Kaka and Kleber all were given yellow cards.

And that, said Sanchez, makes the loss something of a victory.

"Although we didn't win," he said "we know that Brazil took this game very seriously."

--

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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