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Mexico Soccer Team Looks Like a Winner

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Mexico once again served notice Sunday that it will be a force to be reckoned with in this summer’s World Cup when it defeated Uruguay, 1-0, in front of a crowd of more than 45,000 at the Coliseum.

The victory, added to equally impressive triumphs over the past few months against Poland, England, the Soviet Union and West Germany and a tie against Argentina--none of them pushovers in international soccer--indicates that Coach Bora Milutinovic is on the right track.

Mexico’s problems in the past have centered on its players’ inability to function as a team. Individual players seemed too eager to showcase their own skills and the team as a whole suffered. That is no longer the case.

Milutinovic, who took over as coach of the national team three years ago, has each piece of his World Cup machine running smoothly and in unison. It showed Sunday in the way the game’s lone goal was developed and scored.

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Obtaining possession at midfield, Mexico launched its attack down the right flank. Midfielder Thomas Boy, the team captain, and striker Luis Flores shredded the Uruguayan defense with a lightning series of give-and-go passes before crossing the ball into the middle.

There, Javier Aguirre, the former L.A. Aztec who had scored the lone goal in the win over the USSR, sprinted in at the far post and, unchallenged by any defender, slammed the ball home from close range.

The goal, which came before the game was 15 minutes old, stunned the Uruguayans and it took them most of the remainder of the first half to recover.

As it was, they came close to falling behind 2-0 not long after the initial score when Flores again broke free, only to be brutally brought down from behind by defender Eduardo Acevedo’s vicious tackle. Acevedo received a yellow card warning from the referee, the first of several issued in a game that on more than one occasion threatened to become a free-for-all.

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Slowly, however, Uruguay settled down and in fact it was unlucky not to go into the locker room tied--the width of the crossbar being the difference between Ruben Paz’s lofted shot going in or bouncing safely out.

Both goalkeepers were tested during the opening 45 minutes, Uruguay’s 6-foot 7-inch Rodolfo Rodriguez--the tallest top-class goalkeeper in the world--bringing off a magnificent diving save off a scorching shot early on, and Mexico’s Pablo Larios scrambling to turn two shots around his right-hand post late in the half.

Uruguayan Coach Omar Borras, who had elected to keep his star player, Enzo Francescoli, on the sidelines for the first half, sent him on in the second, along with defender Victor Djogo and, later, forward Venancio Ramos.

Djogo, a powerful 28-year-old who plays for Palmeiras in Brazil, added some muscle to the defense and that was enough to blunt the Mexican spearhead the rest of the way.

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The addition of Francescoli in the midfield and Ramos up front led to more frequent offensive forays by Uruguay, but Milutinovic has spent as much time working with his defenders as he has with his midfielders and forwards and there, too, the improvement is demonstrable. Mexico held firm and denied Francescoli and company the goal they sought.

Late in the match Francescoli did put the ball in the net, but the goal was nullified by the referee, who ruled that goalkeeper Larios had been fouled beforehand.

Uruguay leaves this week for Europe, where it will continue its World Cup preparation with matches against Wales, Northern Ireland and Malta. Mexico, meanwhile, will be back in Los Angeles on May 17 to take on England.


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