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Mexico Gets Left Behind

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 1998; Page D4

 Germany's Juergen Klinsmann attempts a bicycle kick; Mexico's Salvador Carmona defends. (Doug Mills/AP)
MONTPELLIER, France, June 29 — For 2 ½ weeks, Mexico's national soccer team was a darling of the 1998 World Cup because of its uncanny ability to overcome any deficit. Today, the Mexicans learned about comebacks from the masters of the art.

Fifteen minutes from elimination, three-time champion Germany stirred just in time to score two goals and subdue upset-minded Mexico, 2-1, in a round-of-16 match at jampacked Stade de la Mosson. The result propelled the Germans into a quarterfinal Saturday against Romania or Croatia in Lyon, but also served as a raucous reminder that no team rises to the occasion in crucial matches like they do.

"We never lost trust or confidence," said veteran forward Juergen Klinsmann, who evened the match in the 75th minute with a goal "that gave us new energy, gave us a new dynamism. Our fighting spirit lifted us when we were down."

Eleven minutes later, Germany was up. Forward Oliver Bierhoff's perfectly placed header shot beyond goalkeeper Jorge Campos's reach and into the upper right corner of the net, touching off a celebration among thousands of German supporters who had fidgeted during most of the warm day, waiting for their team to take charge.

"It was not an easy game," said Germany Coach Berti Vogts. "I don't want to have to go through a game like today again."

When the referee's whistle sounded for a final time, the German players collapsed to the turf, as much relieved as they were exhausted. Mexico, a flop in the World Cup finals with the exception of its quarterfinal appearances when it hosted the tournament in 1970 and '86, had pushed them to the limit.

In the first round, Mexico rebounded from halftime deficits in all three matches, snatching a victory over South Korea and ties with Belgium and the Netherlands — the last two involving two-goal deficits. Today the Mexicans found themselves in the strange position of leading after wild-maned forward Luis Hernandez scored two minutes into the second half on a splendid sequence for his fourth goal of the tournament.

"We've been on an emotional roller coaster," Mexico Coach Manuel Lapuente said. "This defeat is not easy to digest, but I'm proud of my players. ... We're leaving this World Cup with our heads high."

Over the years, Germany has been known for a relentless determination and an unwillingness to concede defeat – part of the reason its international success is matched only by Brazil and Italy. Last week, it overcame a two-goal deficit in the final 16 minutes to tie Yugoslavia, 2-2, in a first-round match.

Today, after a scoreless first half that Germany dominated until a late flurry by Mexico, Hernandez struck. Cuauhtemoc Blanco gave him the ball with a nifty pass at the top of the penalty area. Hernandez shifted to his right to get around Michael Tarnat, created some space for himself, and, just before Christian Woerns came sliding at him, delivered an eight-yard shot into the lower left corner.

"The goal came as a shock, a real shock," Klinsmann said.

A second goal by Mexico would have been a greater shock, and it nearly happened in the 62nd minute. Jesus Arellano burst into the penalty area but the ball was deflected off the left post by German defender Lothar Matthaeus. A moment later, alone with the ball deep in the penalty area after a failed attempt by Germany to draw an offside call, Hernandez shot directly at goalkeeper Andreas Koepke.

Mexico paid for missing its opportunities. In the 75th minute, Raul Lara let Dietmar Hamann's long ball skip off his right ankle, and the opportunistic Klinsmann wasted no time smashing it past Campos for the equalizer.

Bierhoff provided the winning header, off Ulf Kirsten's cross, by getting position on Lara and nodding a 12-yard shot just inside the right post.

"We were able to dream of a quarterfinal qualification for a while," Hernandez said, "but the German goals brought us back to earth."

Notes: Mexico was without midfielder Ramon Ramirez, its best all-around player, who was suspended after receiving a red card in Mexico's final first-round game, against the Netherlands. Germany missed injured defender Juergen Kohler and lost defender Thomas Helmer to a leg injury in the 37th minute. ... In reaction to last week's beating of a police officer by German neo-Nazis in Lens, the German soccer federation distributed 20,000 T-shirts here today with a three-language message saying, "German Fans Against Violence."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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