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CONCACAF GOLD CUP : Spotlight

LOOKING AHEAD TO THE OLYMPICS

One of those who paid close attention to all four American games in the Gold Cup was U.S. Olympic team Coach Bruce Arena, who came away impressed.

“My general impression of the U.S. team is that we have improved greatly over the years and can compete with any team in the world,” Arena said. “Whether that relates to the Olympic level, who knows, but certainly we feel that Jovan Kirovski is going to be a great addition to our [Olympic] team, and perhaps Claudio Reyna is a player we can’t overlook at all.

“We’ve also seen the value of having an outstanding goalkeeper like Kasey Keller.”

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The presence of Kirovski, a 19-year-old from Escondido, and Reyna, 22, who starred on the 1992 U.S. team at Barcelona, would greatly strengthen the American offense in the Atlanta Games, while Keller would provide both security and leadership.

Since Olympic rules allow teams to field a maximum of three players older than 23, Arena can add two more national team players to his roster, assuming Keller, 26, is chosen.

THE FAVORITE

Brazilian Coach Mario Zagalo should have learned a great deal from Sunday’s loss to Mexico. For instance, exactly what he needs to strengthen this team in time for the Olympics.

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Zagalo has several eligible players who bypassed the Gold Cup to stay with their club teams, including Roberto Carlos at Inter Milan in Italy, Juninho at Middlesborough in England, Ronaldo at PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands and Rodrigo at Bayer Leverkusen in Germany.

He also has the option of using three over-age players. Among those being talked about in the Brazilian press as possible Olympic team members are Dunga, Aldair and Bebeto. In addition, Romario has said that he wants to go to Atlanta.

“They probably won’t use a whole lot [of older players],” Arena said. “Our understanding is that there’s an agreement they won’t be using World Cup players as their over-age players.”

Sunday’s loss might change that in a hurry.

AN UPLIFTING MOMENT

One of the more uplifting moments in a generally depressing CONCACAF tournament occurred after Sunday’s United States-Guatemala game.

U.S. Coach Steve Sampson and defenders Mike Burns and Alexi Lalas visited Richard Bautista, the 12-year-old Whittier boy who was shot in the head on his way home from a Dodger game in September.

The three talked with the youngster, who was watching Sunday’s games on close-circuit television from a room adjoining the Coliseum press box.

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“His dream has always been to be a U.S. national team player, so we’ve visited him a couple of times in the hospital,” Sampson said.

HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE

Mexico’s victory over Brazil was its first in 26 years, dating back to a 1-0 triumph in a friendly at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium just before the 1970 World Cup, which Brazil, with Pele, went on to win.

Zagalo was the coach, a position he again assumed following Carlos Alberto Parreira’s resignation after the 1994 World Cup.

None of the players Zagalo brought to this Gold Cup had been born yet.

QUICK QUOTES

Bora Milutinovic, on pregame assessments that Mexico was inferior to Brazil: “I think it is much more important to speak after the game than before.”

U.S. Soccer President Alan Rothenberg: “If we couldn’t win it, he’s the one I’d want to win. I love Bora.”

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MAYBE THAT’S WHY MEXICO WON IT ALL

Los Angeles might be Mexico’s home-away-from-home, but that didn’t stop the folks at the Coliseum from denying Bora Milutinovic and his team the chance to practice at the stadium on Saturday.

Rebuffed but determined, Milutinovic and his players simply made use of the grassy areas surrounding the nearby museums. The surface was probably better than the Coliseum’s anyway.

THE CHAMPIONS

When Milutinovic built the Mexican team that reached the quarterfinals of the 1986 World Cup, he relied on a nucleus of seven or eight players from one club, UNAM, who had played together for several years.

The starting lineup that won the Gold Cup features six players from Club America of Mexico City, and Bora’s plan for France ’98 is starting to appear.

The championship-winning team and the players’ clubs:

Goalkeeper: Jorge Campos (Atlante).

Defenders: Claudio Suarez (UNAM); German Villa (Club America); Dulio Cesar Davino (UAG); Raul Gutierrez (Club America).

Midfelders: Ramon Ramirez (Guadalajara); Alberto Garcia Aspe (Necaxa); Joaquin Del Olmo (Club America); Raul Rodrigo Lara (Club America).

Forwards: Luis Garcia (Club America) and Cauhtemoc Blanco (Club America).

ADDING IT UP

The financial break-even point for the tournament supposedly was “more or less” 300,000 fans, according to Jorge Martinez, president of Inter/Forever Sports, the Miami company that handled the championship.

The nine-nation, 13-game tournament had 10 playing dates (there were three doubleheaders) and, allowing for differences between announced attendance and stadium estimates, this is the breakdown:

Day One--27,125

Day Two--15,352

Day Three--8,234

Day Four--12,425

Day Five--20,708

Day Six--32,571

Day Seven--52,345

Day Eight--22,038

Day Nine--42,221

Day Ten--88,155

That adds up to 318,599, or an average of 31,859 per playing date. Imagine what the Gold Cup might have drawn if it had been promoted.

PROTEST? WHAT PROTEST?

It became a moot point after the victory, but Mexico played Sunday’s championship game under protest, arguing that there is nothing in CONCACAF’s tournament rules calling for the second- and third-place teams to play off for the title in the event of a Brazilian victory.

Word was that Mexico would refuse to take part in the envisioned home-and-home series against the United States later this spring or summer.

That raised the ire of U.S. Coach Steve Sampson, among others.

“I can’t tell you the official position of the federation because I don’t speak for the federation,” he said. “But I’ll tell you how Steve Sampson feels.

“If Brazil wins this match today and that [series] doesn’t take place, you’ll have one very upset American coach and, quite frankly, I would encourage our federation to seek FIFA’s advice on how to handle the situation. I would be extremely displeased. I would almost go to the point of suggesting--and this is my standpoint, not the federation’s-- that maybe we should consider not playing in the next CONCACAF Gold Cup.

“I think it would be nice to see a true champion of CONCACAF, and I am not fearful in the least of facing Mexico anywhere on the planet to determine that championship.”

Compiled by Grahame L. Jones and Mike Penner

FACTS AND FIGURES

TOP GOALKEEPERS

*--*

Keeper (Country) G GA Avg. Jorge Campos (Mexico) 4 0 0.00 Kasey Keller (United States) 4 3 0.75 Dida (Brazil) 4 3 0.75 Edgar Estrada (Guatemala) 4 5 1.25 Raul Garcia (El Salvador) 2 4 2.00 Craig Forrest (Canada) 2 5 2.50 Ross Russell (Trin. & Tobago) 2 6 3.00

*--*

TOP GOAL SCORERS

Four Goals

Eric Wynalda (United States)

Three Goals

Caio (Brazil)

Luis Garcia (Mexico)

Two Goals

Jamelli (Brazil)

Savio (Brazil)

Kevin Holness (Canada)

Raul Diaz Arce (El Salvador)

Ricardo Pelaez (Mexico)

Cuautemoc Blanco (Mexico)

Arnold Dwarika (Trinidad and Tobago)

Russell Latapy (Trinidad and Tobago)

There were 15 players who scored one goal and there was one own goal. There were a total of 42 goals scored in the tournament, an average of 3.23 goals per game.

Defensive midfielder Raul Rodrigo Lara of Mexico was named the most valuable player.

TOURNAMENT RESULTS

PRELIMINARY ROUND

Jan. 10

At Anaheim Stadium

* Canada 3, Honduras 1

At Anaheim Stadium

* El Salvador 3, Trinidad and Tobago 2

Jan. 11

At San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium

* Mexico 5, St. Vincent & the Grenadines 0

Jan. 12

At Coliseum

* Brazil 4, Canada 1

Jan. 13

At Anaheim Stadium

* United States 3, Trinidad and Tobago 2

Jan. 14

At San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium

* Mexico 1, Guatemala 0

At Coliseum

* Brazil 5, Honduras 0

Jan. 16

At Anaheim Stadium

* Guatemala 3, St. Vincent & the Grenadines 0

At Anaheim Stadium

* United States 2, El Salvador 0

Final Standings

GROUP A--Mexico, 2-0-0, 6 points; Guatemala, 1-1-0, 3; St. Vincent & the Grenadines, 0-2-0, 0.

GROUP B--Brazil, 2-0-0, 6; Canada, 1-1-0, 3; Honduras, 0-2-0, 0.

GROUP C--United States, 2-0-0, 6; El Salvador, 1-1-0, 3; Trinidad and Tobago, 0-2-0, 0.

SEMIFINALS

Jan. 18

At Coliseum

* Brazil 1, United States 0

Jan. 19

At San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium

* Mexico 1, Guatemala 0

Jan. 21

At Coliseum Third Place

* United States 3, Guatemala 0

Championship

* Mexico 2, Brazil 0


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