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Mexico Squeezes Into Gold Cup Finals

By NANCY ARMOUR
The Associated Press
Friday, June 22, 2007; 1:33 AM

CHICAGO -- One shot after another went over the crossbar, off the Guadeloupe goalkeeper's hands or sailed wide. Finally, well into the second half, Mexico captain Pavel Pardo bailed El Tri out from the ultimate embarrassment.

Pardo scored on a curling shot from 30 yards in the 70th minute Thursday night to give Mexico a 1-0 win over little Guadeloupe, an island so teeny it's not even it's own country.

"No, I'm not satisfied," Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez said. "I think we're getting better. I'm happy with the defensive performance, but the tight score, I'm not happy with."

The victory gave Mexico a spot in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final Sunday, where it will play the United States, the defending champions. Mexico is a four-time champion of this tournament and has never lost in the final, but the Mexicans haven't beaten the Americans on U.S. soil since 2000, either.

The United States advanced to the final by beating Canada 2-1 in the first semifinal, getting some help when a goal in stoppage time was waved off on a disputed offsides call.

"It's true we haven't won in the United States recently," Pardo said. "But life gives you opportunities, and Sunday we will have one."

But Mexico is going to have to play much better than it did against the Gwada Boys.

Guadeloupe actually is a part of France _ it's called an overseas department _ and isn't one of FIFA's 208 members. That means soccer's world governing body doesn't recognize it. It is allowed to have a team in this regional championship, but with its best players committed to France _ Thierry Henry, Lilian Thuram and William Gallas all have roots in Guadeloupe _ it essentially fielded what Mexico or the United States would consider a second- or third-string squad.

But the Gwada Boys gave Mexico everything it could handle.

"That was our goal coming into this tournament: To leave an impression on these teams. We wanted teams to start doubting their game and stand up and recognize Guadeloupean football," coach Roger Salnot said.

"(Mexico) performed very well and were very challenging," Salnot added. "That's natural, given the experience that they have, for them to dominate the game. This particular time, they were more dominant than us. I think a lot of that comes from experience."

Mexico lost in the second round of the World Cup last summer, and it's been struggling to find a rhythm lately. It lost to Honduras in the group stage of the Gold Cup, and eked out 1-0 wins over Panama and Costa Rica. On Thursday, no matter who took the shot or where it was from, El Tri couldn't get anything in the net.

"The work of Mexico was to create opportunities and I think did so," Sanchez said. "We didn't find many, but enough to be happy with our performance. A 2-0, 3-0 scoreline would have been more just."

Guadeloupe goalie Franck Grandel was credited with seven saves, five in the first half alone. But it may as well have been twice that for all the time he spent diving this way and that and leaping to punch the ball out of harm's way.

In the 55th minute, Cuauhtemoc Blanco _ who is joining the Chicago Fire next month _ crossed to Adolfo Bautista from the far left. Bautista headed the ball, but it went straight to Grandel's hands and he punched it away.

Eight minutes later, Gerardo Torrado's shot from straight on sailed over the crossbar.

But with a crowd of 50,790 _ 50,789 of whom seemed to be rooting for Mexico _ cheering loudly, Pardo finally bailed the Mexicans out in the 70th minute.

From 30 yards out, he looped a sharp ball with his right foot into the upper corner of the net. Grandel leaped, but it was just beyond his reach. As the rest of the Mexican team mobbed Pardo and the crowd erupted in cheers of "MEX-I-CO! MEX-I-CO!" Grandel sat on the ground, dejected.

"I said it was going to be a tough game because they pack it in defensively," Pardo said. "We had opportunities to score goals. We should have scored more."

It was a tough ending for the Gwada Boys, who had relished the rare chance to wear the Guadeloupe jersey and do their island proud.

"Guadeloupe is an island of 400,000 people whereas Mexico is powerful and has millions and millions," Salnot said. "Even though this is the scenario, we still have managed to provide the experience of beautiful Guadeloupean football."

Notes:@ Mexico captain Pavel Pardo and Ricardo Osorio have said they will not play in Copa America because they are tired from the European season with Germany's VfB Stuttgart.

© 2007 The Associated Press