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Mexico Thumps U.S. to Win Gold Cup


By JERÉ LONGMAN / The New York Times

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It may have fielded a mostly B-list roster, but Mexico unleashed an A-list celebration Sunday after defeating the United States on the road for the first time in a decade to win the Gold Cup with a dominating 5-0 victory.

Although the second-tier American team was humiliated before a pro-Mexico crowd of 79,156 — apparently the largest soccer crowd at Giants Stadium — the outcome is likely to have little effect on the Aug. 12 World Cup qualifying match between the two countries at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.

“You can’t carry history with you,” Javier Aguirre, Mexico’s coach, said. “Aug. 12 is a completely different game.”

Both teams, the United States in particular, are expected to significantly alter their lineups for the qualifying match. But that mattered little Sunday. After struggling to defeat the Americans anywhere but Azteca, with its 7,200-foot altitude, Mexico desperately needed the cathartic victory it experienced in the Gold Cup final.

This was Mexico’s first win against the United States outside Mexico City since March 13, 1999. Since then, Mexico had experienced nine defeats and two ties against the Americans away from home, including a 2-0 loss in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea.

Sunday, all of Mexico’s goals came during a furiously counterattacking second half. The first four were delivered or facilitated by a pair of 20-year-old forwards, Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela. They have struggled to get regular playing time with their British club teams — dos Santos with Tottenham and Vela with Arsenal — but both were too fast and creative for the Americans, who wilted in the heat.

So after failing to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and placing its qualification for the 2010 World Cup in jeopardy, Mexico rebounded Sunday to reclaim the championship of the North American, Central American and Caribbean region.

The win in Mexico’s national sport also brought some temporary good news to a country struggling with a cratered economy, a swine flu epidemic and murderous drug wars. For Mexico’s coach and players, who have come under enormous pressure from fans and the news media for their fumbling performances during World Cup qualification, Sunday’s victory will buy some good will, at least until Aug. 12.

“It gives us a lot of confidence,” dos Santos said. “This win was a huge step forward. We’ve been working very hard despite a lot of criticism. We showed pride and a lot of heart today. Fans, like the media, will now believe in the national team.”

The United States played Sunday without Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and virtually every other regular player. Still, the defeat was embarrassing and gave the American reserves a harsh lesson about their international standing. The United States had not lost by 5-0 since a defeat to England in 1985 and had not surrendered five goals since a 5-1 defeat to the former Czechoslovakia in the 1990 World Cup.

In a dull first half, neither team managed a shot on goal. But Vela came on to open the second half, and the game changed almost immediately, as Mexico began to show more speed and urgency. In the 56th minute, Vela played a pass into the penalty area to dos Santos, who was yanked down by defender Jay Heaps.

Mexico was awarded a penalty kick, and the captain Gerardo Torrado confidently placed the ball into the upper-right portion of the net for a 1-0 lead. The score quickly snowballed as the Americans regularly gave the ball away and their defense was stretched.

In the 62nd minute, a rebound shot by dos Santos made it 2-0. On a counterattack in the 67th minute, dos Santos passed to Vela, who chipped a shot over the charging American goalkeeper Troy Perkins. The score began to roll up like prices on a gas pump.

“Look at anybody in the United States and this loss has to anger you,” the American forward Brian Ching said.

Now comes the rematch. The United States is 0-22-1 in Mexico. But never has Mexico appeared so vulnerable at Azteca, where it has lost only one World Cup qualifier — to Costa Rica in 2001.

With half of the final round of World Cup qualifying remaining, Mexico sits in fourth place in the region; the Americans are second. The first three teams automatically qualify for next year’s World Cup in South Africa, and the fourth team enters a playoff against the fifth-place team from South America. A loss to the United States in August could be as crippling as Sunday’s victory was uplifting.

“Pressure exists today, and it will always exist,” Aguirre said. “Tonight I will sleep well. Tomorrow, the pressure begins again.”

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