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Mexico Has Its Hands Full in a 1-0 Victory Over Peru

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bora Milutinovic is in a better place now, far from the madding crowds and media critics who demanded his ouster as Mexico’s national soccer coach for crimes that seem so trivial today.

Bora Ball was boring--that was the most serious charge. Too much nil-nil, not enough unbridled exhibitions of flash and skill. That grind-em-down, play-not-to-lose approach helped get Milutinovic fired twice in three years--first by the United States, then last November after Mexico had won its World Cup qualifying group with a record of four victories, six ties and no losses.

So today Bora is in Nigeria, helping groom the reigning Olympic champion, a side with the talent to reach the Final Four in France this summer, while the team he left behind wallows through a World Cup build-up that can better be characterized as a nervous breakdown.

Coming off a disastrous three-game South American trip that saw Mexico go 0-3 against two club teams and Chile’s under-21 squad, Mexico labored to a 1-0 victory over Peru Wednesday night at the Coliseum before 22,650 restless--and in some cases, revisionist--fans.

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“Bora Regresa” read one sign on a railing near midfield. Bora Come Back. Another sign, calling for the job of Milutinovic’s replacement as national coach, Manuel Lapuente, had a short life in the first half before it was removed a few minutes before intermission.

Lapuente has pleaded patience while experimenting with young players during his World Cup preparation, but, of course, only panic has ensued.

After Mexico lost three consecutive “friendly” games to Argentine club team Boca Juniors, Chilean club team Universidad Catolica and Chile’s under-21 squad, disgruntled fans revised their long-time nickname for the team from “Tricolore” to “Tri-tanic.”

“We fired Bora and put in Lapuente for this?” asked Valente Aguirre, president of the Mexican first division club Leon, last week after the Tri-tanic limped back into home port. “This is unacceptable, and we need an urgent meeting about this.”

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Lapuente stands to coach another day, largely because of a generous penalty whistled against Peruvian defender Jorge Huaman in the 77th minute. Huaman bumped Mexico’s Cuauhtemoc Blanco off the ball in the box and Blanco milked it to the maximum, taking a roll on the turf and drawing the referee’s whistle.

Peru argued vehemently, but to no avail, and when Luis Hernandez converted the penalty kick, Mexico was on its way to a narrow escape.

Peru nearly scored first, in the 48th minute, when a 20-yard strike by Nolberto Solano banged off the crossbar. Minutes after Hernandez’ goal, Peru almost equalized on a shot that veered just inches wide of the post.

The lineup Lapuente started Wednesday was a young one, including neither of Mexico’s veteran forwards, Carlos Hermosillo or Benjamin Galindo. Their absence was telling in the first half especially, with Mexico failing to finish a handful of prime scoring opportunities, but Lapuente has insisted these games are to learn about new players--and Hermosillo and Galindo are known quantities.

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Former Galaxy goalkeeper Jorge Campos started for Mexico and was rarely challenged. On the few occasions he was, the post and the crossbar was there to save him. Most notable about Campos was his attire--a most subdued blue.

But then, that was appropriate for the mood surrounding Mexican national soccer at the moment.


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