Mexico defeats U.S. in OT, 1-0

Confederations Cup semis a far cry from World Cup

August 02, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico had to fight ferociously yesterday to edge the United States, 1-0, in extra time of the semifinals of the Confederations Cup, more proof of the U.S. men's soccer team's steady recovery from its World Cup humiliation just a year ago.

Mexican star forward Cuauhtemoc Blanco scored the lone goal in a goal-mouth scramble during the sixth minute of extra time on a play that Blanco set up with a looping midfield pass to right wing Francisco Palencia, who crossed the ball back into the chaotic crease.

But that was the only time the Mexicans beat U.S. goalkeeper and captain Kasey Keller, who made two superb saves in the first dozen minutes and another early in the second half to keep the Americans in the game.

After a surprisingly convincing 2-0 victory over Germany on Friday night and a tight 1-0 loss to Brazil earlier in the tournament, the U.S. team continued to win respect with its strong display against Mexico in a rivalry charged with emotion and history.

The Americans, missing several key starters, were playing against a Mexican team at full strength in its own Azteca Stadium, the mecca of Mexican soccer, where Mexico has beaten the United States 15 times -- and played to a draw once. Although the 110,000-seat stadium was only two-thirds full, the crowd still sent up a deafening buzz every time Mexico touched the ball. Yet the U.S. team remained organized and unrattled.

"If you look back a year ago and compare what we did in France in 1998 against July 1999, it's night and day," said Jeff Agoos, part of a back line that repeatedly blunted the Mexican attack. "We have more of a team concept, we have a better idea what we want to accomplish, and that's showing on the field."

The Mexican team, criticized by its nation's media for a sluggish start in the tournament, also broke new ground in the eight-team competition: With its victory yesterday, Mexico qualified for the first time for the final of a major international competition. That final will be played Wednesday in Mexico City against Brazil, which beat Saudi Arabia, 8-2, yesterday in Guadalajara in the other semifinal.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena, who won titles with D.C. United and the University of Virginia, complained afterward that playing four games in 12 days "is unfair to the players -- too many games in too short a time. The thinking behind that is very poor."

Still, "To see that our team can play them pretty evenly tells me that we are making progress," Arena said.

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