Mexico turns to veterans for 12th World Cup appearancePosted: Wednesday May 01, 2002 6:49 AM
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Month after month, coach Javier Aguirre experimented with young players even as he brought Mexico from the brink of elimination to World Cup qualification.
Some 50 players passed through the national team over the past 10 months as Aguirre tinkered with a sometimes thrilling, sometimes boring team.
But as he announced his final squad for soccer's biggest event, the coach turned back to some old favorites who once seemed to have been sidelined: forwards Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Luis Hernandez, and goalkeeper Jorge Campos.
They are expected to be among the leaders -- spiritually at least -- of a team that has often had high hopes but has never finished higher than sixth in a World Cup, despite playing in 12 of the tournaments and hosting two of them.
Mexico barely made it this far. The team struggled in the early part of regional qualifying and was on the verge of elimination after six consecutive defeats before Aguirre was named coach in June.
The enthusiastic young coach shook up the team, and got some help from players such as Blanco, 29, who came back from a yearlong injury to score five goals in five games for the national team.
Blanco then quit the squad, complaining of bad treatment and saying he wanted to concentrate on his work with Valladolid in Spain. But by late February, with the lure of the World Cup growing stronger, Blanco reconsidered.
Campos, a two-time World Cup veteran goalkeeper famed for his wild dashes from the net, seemed to have been forgotten as Mexico kept winning with Oscar "Rabbit" Perez of Mexico's Cruz Azul in goal.
But when Aguirre's list was released last week, there -- seemingly as always -- was the 35-year-old Campos' name alongside that of Perez, 29.
Perez was impressive in qualifying games. At 1.71 meters (5-foot-6), he is known for his strong legs and ability to jump.
Hernandez, known as "El Matador," was Mexico's star at the 1998 World Cup in France, his long blond hair flailing as he scored four goals. But the 31-year-old forward sometimes seemed to have lost his flair and has played little during Aguirre's time at the helm.
Twenty-eight-year-old Francisco Palencia, who plays for Espanyol in the Spanish league, also was key in Mexico's run to the World Cup under Aguirre.
Another veteran, 35-year-old midfielder Alberto Garcia Aspe, is likely to be important in helping solidify a midfield that has suffered losses due to injury and penalties.
Argentine-born midfielder Gabriel Caballero, nationalized as a Mexican on Dec. 11, has also been brought aboard. A former scoring leader as a forward in the national league, he played for Aguirre at Pachuca.
Under Aguirre, 43, Mexico has played 20 games, five of them World Cup qualifiers, six in the Copa America, three in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and six exhibition games. He is 12-3-5.
Aguirre, who played for Mexico in the 1986 World Cup, began his coaching career in 1995 with Atlante and he was on the staff during the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
Mexico faces Croatia, Italy and Ecuador in Group G.
Croatia finished third in the 1998 World Cup while Ecuador is making its debut. Italy is, well, Italy -- a three-time World Cup champion, winning in 1934, 1938 and 1982.
In 1998, Mexico was eliminated from the World Cup after a narrow 2-1 loss to Germany.