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Mexico Realistic About World Cup

June 2, 1998

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Nobody can accuse Mexico of unrealistic hopes as it heads into the World Cup.

Devastating defeats and unimpressive victories in warmup games have sent expectations plunging in soccer-mad Mexico, which is accustomed to World Cup disappointments.

Mexico opens against South Korea, but with Belgium and the Netherlands in its group, again faces an uphill battle to advance past the first round.

The team known as ``El Tri″ for its red, white and green uniforms of the national colors, has played in 10 World Cups, but survived the first round just three times. Its warmups don’t bode well for France ’98.

``We continue without giving the results that we all would like,″ national football federation spokesman Jesus Galindo Zarate said after Mexico squeezed past Venice of the Italian B league 1-0 on May 13.

Mexico was the first team to qualify for the World Cup from the CONCACAF region, but fans grew frustrated by coach Bora Milutinovic’s cautious, defense-oriented strategy.

After four consecutive draws, shouts of ``Bora Out!″ rained from the stands at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium. Last November, team officials ousted him in favor of Manuel Lapuente, one of the most successful coaches in the Mexican professional leagues.

Lapuente has cut down on the ties, but at the cost of some astonishing losses.

Mexico made a respectable showing at the Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia in December, routing the hosts 5-0 before losing 3-2 to Brazil.

But that was followed by the debacle of a spring tour of South America: losses of 3-1 to Boca Juniors of Argentina, 2-1 to Chile’s under-21 team and 5-1 to Chile’s Catholic University squad.

Mexican newspapers began calling the squad the ``Tritanic.″

Lapuente practically remade Bora’s team, injecting new blood into the squad and mixing veterans with rising stars such as Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Luis Hernandez.

The coach surprised many by adding players who weren’t even recruited for the national team in the previous two years.

Lapuente picked Ricardo Pelaez, who specializes in headers, but left behind Carlos Hermosillo, known for his long-range cannonball shots.

Also dropped were Benjamin Galindo, known as the ``master″ for his feints and strikes on free and penalty shots, and Alberto Coyote, considered a strong defender.

Still on hand are two stars from the 1994 World Cup team, goalkeeper Jorge Campos and forward Luis Garcia.

Despite fans’ doubts about Mexico’s World Cup chances, Lapuente insists he has the ``the greatest team in the world″ and promises to lead ``with much dignity and class.″

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