Mexican National Team Wins, but It Needs Work

Times Staff Writer

When he took over as coach of Mexico's national soccer team in 1982, Bora Milutinovic had no illusions about the job. He knew it would be a struggle just to survive.

"I got the job because I had been successful at the club level," he told London's World Soccer magazine in January. "I don't expect the same success rate with the national team, and I haven't been disappointed. It's been a case of two steps forward and one step back."

On Tuesday night, in front of a Coliseum crowd estimated at 35,000, it was a case of one huge step back as Mexico barely managed to beat Fiorentina of Italy, 1-0, on a second-half goal by Hugo Sanchez.

It was a poorly played game, marred by frequent ugly fouls and constant interruptions as referee Majid Abutalebi fought to keep tempers under control.

The Italians' poor mood may have been due to fatigue. The team arrived at midnight Monday after a flight from Rome that was delayed for four hours in Milan and two hours in Chicago.

Mexico's excuse was not so understandable. This is the team that will be hosting the World Cup next year, and Milutinovic can hardly have been pleased by its performance.

The game's goal was scored 1:42 into the second half and, not surprisingly, it came on a free kick after a foul just outside the Fiorentina penalty area.

Sanchez, who had only arrived in town himself on Monday after a flight from Spain, where he plays for Atletico Madrid, unleashed a shot that curved around a wall of Italian defenders and into the lower left-hand corner of the net.

Sanchez is the one bright hope for Mexico in 1986. This was his first appearance with the national team since Milutinovic took over, but he seems to be what the coach is looking for in a player.

"What I want to find with my team is the Mexican style," Milutinovic has said. "The Mexican player is generally quick and skillful, and surprisingly strong over 90 minutes. What I have to develop is tactical awareness, professional concentration and, above all, self-confidence."

Tuesday night's game showed little of any of those qualities, but Milutinovic has 15 months to correct the deficiencies.

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