Star player Blanco returns to action for MexicoPosted: Wednesday May 01, 2002 6:50 AM
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Shortly after leading Mexico to a place in the World Cup, star striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco quit the national team, complaining of bad treatment and saying he wanted to focus on his play in Europe.
But when coach Javier Aguirre called him up again in April, just six weeks before Mexico's World Cup opener against Croatia, hard feelings were forgotten.
Blanco was an up-and-coming star during the 1998 World Cup in France, amusing -- and sometimes irritating -- fans with a move called the "Cuauhteminha:" seizing the ball between his feet and hopping past a blocker.
He was sidelined by a knee injury for nearly a year during Mexico's qualifying-round games for this year's World Cup. Coincidentally, Mexico was struggling and risked elimination.
When he finally returned to the squad, the 29-year-old forward scored five goals in the last five qualifying games for a team that also seemed to be rejuvenated by the appointment of Aguirre as coach.
Blanco, who plays for Valladolid in the Spanish first division, can work the center as well as the sides of the field, often lobbing dangerous passes.
In his last qualifying matches, he played well with a likely partner in the World Cup, Francisco Palencia of Espanyol, though both are well down in the Spanish league scoring charts this year.
Both scored -- Blanco hitting the net twice -- when Mexico finally qualified for the World Cup with a 3-0 victory over Honduras on Nov. 11.
Blanco also scored twice in a crucial Sept. 2 victory over Jamaica, one of the games that helped rescue Mexico.
He played a key role as well in Mexico's run to the championship of the Confederations Cup in 1999, scoring in sudden-death overtime to beat the United States 1-0 in the semifinals, then adding another in Mexico's 4-3 upset of Brazil in the final.