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WORLD CUP : NOTES

Mexico seems out of sorts

June 24, 2010|Kevin Baxter and Grahame L. Jones | reporting from pretoria, south africa

It was subtle. And it might have been nothing more than frustration boiling over after a difficult defeat.

But there have been signs that all may not be well in the Mexican camp, something Coach Javier Aguirre hinted at in his postgame news conference after Mexico qualified for the round of 16 despite losing to Uruguay, 1-0, in a Group A game Tuesday.

"We cannot coach by congress," said Aguirre, who has been criticized by fans and the Mexican media for his team's inconsistent performance "When it comes to setting up the national team, it's my responsibility and we'll see how far we can take it."

Aguirre began the World Cup saying this could be the best team in Mexican history. And federation President Justino Compean guaranteed it would reach the quarterfinals, something only two other Mexican teams have done.

But though Mexico has won praise for its aggressive style, its offense has sputtered in a first round in which it had to rally to tie South Africa before being shut out by Uruguay.

Mexico has scored four goals in three games, a total Argentina, Germany and Portugal have either equaled or topped in one game.

Aguirre made a couple of questionable moves Tuesday, starting lead-legged Cuauhtemoc Blanco, 37, and removing midfielder Andres Guardado at halftime even though he had played well.

Blanco, who also wore the captain's armband Tuesday, blew through the media without talking after the game, and Guardado was accompanied by a security guard who made sure no one tried to question him.

New tactic

New Zealand Coach Ricki Herbert admitted he put an amateur on the field in Sunday's 1-1 tie with Italy to prove a point.

Herbert confessed to a New Zealand reporter that he substituted Andy Barron, a 29-year-old bank officer, into the game in the final minutes to show that you don't have to be a highly paid professional to succeed at soccer's highest level.

"We have got a couple of stars," Herbert said. "But we are made up of hard workers, and we grind out results. That's how it is in New Zealand. That's how we are raised, and that's what our spirit is all about."

Italy, the defending World Cup champion, has 4.9-million soccer players, including 3,541 professionals, according to Tony Smith of New Zealand's Dominion Post. That's more than the population of New Zealand, which has only 25 full-fledged professionals among its 200,000 soccer players.

History lesson

The Dutch team, which has already qualified for the second round, canceled its morning workout Wednesday to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists were jailed.

After laughing and joking during the ferry trip to the prison, the players turned silent when they were shown around the cramped prison.

--

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

grahame.jones@latimes.com

Times wire services contributed to this report.

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