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World Cup preparation starts well for Mexico

A 5-0 victory over Bolivia kicks off a series of games to get ready for the tournament in South Africa.

February 25, 2010|By Kevin Baxter

Reporting from San Francisco — It has been an interesting week for Javier Aguirre, coach of Mexico's national soccer team.

First he was called on the carpet to answer for, among other things, vulgar and disparaging remarks he made about Mexico's narco-fueled violence during an interview with a Spanish radio station. Then on Wednesday he was forced to stand in the damp chill of Candlestick Park for two hours watching, along with a pro-Mexico crowd of 34,244, as his team opened preparations for this year's World Cup with an exhibition against Bolivia.

At least that was worth the sacrifice, though, since Mexico dominated in a 5-0 victory that was far more one-sided than the score might indicate.

Unfortunately for Mexico, Bolivia won't be in South Africa for the World Cup. But then few of the inexperienced players in Aguirre's lineup Wednesday are expected to be there either.

That second part may be about to change.

The first of Mexico's 11 scheduled World Cup warmups -- a 12th game, with Portugal in late May, is about to be added -- was meant to give Aguirre a chance to observe players new to the national team. And Javier Hernandez and Braulio Luna, who are at opposite ends of their careers, took advantage of the opportunity.

Playing in only his second international game -- and listed as an attacking midfielder, not a forward, on Aguirre's two-striker lineup card -- the 21-year-old Hernandez had two goals in the first 22 minutes as Mexico ran out to 4-0 lead.

But the 35-year-old Luna was even better, setting up Pablo Barrera's goal in the third minute, assisting on both of Hernandez's scores and scoring an unassisted goal in the 19th minute.

Paul Aguilar got Mexico's final goal off a corner kick in the 52nd minute.

Luna has played in two World Cups for Mexico but hasn't appeared in a FIFA tournament since 2002, the last time Aguirre coached the national team.

Now he finds himself fighting to win back his spot alongside players like Hernandez, Barrera and Aguilar, who were in junior high school when Luna last played in a World Cup game.

"These are friendly games but you have to win points to go to the World Cup and to win the confidence of the coaching staff," said forward Angel Reyna, who made his debut with the national team when Aguirre opened the second half by making wholesale substitutions, eventually sending into the game everyone but backup goalkeeper Luis Ernesto Michel.

"All of us want to wear the jersey of the Mexican national team. So we have to fight for our place. We have to demonstrate in these games that we deserve a place."

And speaking of the jerseys of the Mexican national team, they were as new as some of the players wearing them Wednesday since Mexico showed off its new green shirts for the first time.

The team is expected to debut its black kit top on Tuesday at the Rose Bowl when it continues its World Cup preparation against New Zealand.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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