Bravo on the Brink of World Cup Team

Times Staff Writer

Hans Westerhof had seen it before, what surely makes Omar Bravo the player he is.

"Bravo scores most of his goals when he starts from the side and moves toward the middle," said Westerhof, who coaches Chivas de Guadalajara.

And that's exactly how Bravo, a 25-year-old Chivas striker, saved the day and kept his club's opportunity for future riches alive in the Copa Libertadores, which begins later this month.

Bravo's goal in the final minute of extra time Tuesday night against Necaxa at the Home Depot Center earned Chivas a 1-1 tie and pushed it into one of today's Interliga finals in Carson.

Chivas will play Veracruz in the nightcap of a doubleheader at 5:30 at the Home Depot Center. UANL Tigres will play Monterrey at 3 p.m. The winners advance to the Copa Libertadores, South America's top club tournament, in which Chivas reached the semifinals last year. Another Mexican team, UNAM Pumas, has already qualified.

On the tying goal, Bravo used the elusiveness of his 5-foot-9, 160-pound frame to weave past a ball-watching Necaxa defender, sliding toward the goal and poking a flicked cross from Manuel Sol past goalkeeper Ivan Vasquez.

"The team had committed itself to the attack completely and there was a little bit of desperation," Bravo said in Spanish of Chivas' bringing five strikers forward in the waning moments. "But thank God that the ball landed at my feet and I was able to score."

While he appreciates Bravo's humility, Westerhof says he knows better.

"That's what he's good at. I'd say almost 80% of his goals are like that," said the Dutch coach who spent part of last season with Chivas USA in Major League Soccer. "He gets behind a defender and then moves in [on a cross] without him knowing it. It's not easy to do."

It's that opportunism that has moved Bravo to the brink of participating in his first World Cup.

Bravo was called into Mexico's national team in 2005 for 13 of its 26 games, including four World Cup qualifiers. He started three and played 90 minutes in Mexico's last game, a 2-0 win over Hungary on Dec. 14 at Phoenix.

Much of Mexico's 2006 World Cup roster will be determined during the team's five-game tour of the U.S., starting Jan. 25 against Norway in San Francisco and ending May 12 against an opponent to be announced at the Rose Bowl. Mexico will also play South Korea at the Coliseum on Feb. 15.

"I'm almost sure that he will go to the world championship and could be a starter, but it also depends a little bit on the way [Mexico Coach Ricardo] Lavolpe wants to play," Westerhof said. "[Bravo's] advantage is that he plays in Mexico's first division."

Bravo grew up in the Chivas system and made his debut with the big club in 2001. After scoring six goals in the Apertura tournament in 2002, he had a breakout season in the summer of 2003, scoring 10 goals and four assists.

Things cooled a bit after that, but Bravo showed his resilience with his best season as a pro last summer when he scored 12 goals and had six assists.

All the recent attention has led to talk of Bravo leaving Chivas this season.

Corinthians, a top club in Brazil, is seeking to acquire players on loan, and its technical director, Humberto Grondona, has expressed interest in at least three Chivas players -- Bravo, midfielder Alberto Medina and goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez.

"We have received much information through their representatives and we know they are interested in coming to Brazil," Grondona told Mexico's sports daily Record recently.

Corinthians also will take part in the Copa Libertadores and there's a chance that if Chivas wins Sunday, it could end up in the same group with the Brazilian club, creating an awkward situation should any of the players be moved.

But Bravo says he doesn't want to get ahead of himself, whether it's his future with his club or with the national team.

"Today I'm with Chivas, but tomorrow I could be with the national team and I'll be living day by day," Bravo said. "I'm very excited about the possibility of playing in a World Cup, but you just have to wait to see what each day brings."

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