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U.S. U-23s Battle Mexico for Athens Berth Tuesday Night at 8 p.m. CT


 
-- USA-MEXICO SHOWDOWN --

BATTLE FOR ATHENS TONIGHT AT 8 P.M. CT LIVE ON ussoccer.com's MatchTracker: It's come down to this: one game -- the biggest game of each player's lives (except maybe for Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley's World Cup experience in Korea in 2002, of course) -- that will decide who will go to Athens between two countries that make up one of the oldest and most intense rivalries in the world. And it will played in front of 60,000 vocal, volatile fans cheering the home team on at Estadio Jalisco when the match kicks off at 8 p.m. CT live on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics. Mexico will likely throw out its usual 3-3-3-1 formation, which basically amounts to two lines of defense and four all-out attackers. On the attack, everything goes through tiny midfielder Luis Ernesto Perez, who had a foot in all four goals in their 4-0 win over Jamaica and the lone goal in the 1-1 tie with Costa Rica. Perez, who turned 23 on Friday, is the only player on the Mexican U-23 team that played in the last CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Hershey, Pa., from April 21-30, 2000, as did midfielder Beasley and forward Donovan. For the U.S., it's no secret that it will have to rely on the speed, experience and finishing ability of its three key players -- Bobby Convey, Beasley and Donovan -- to strike quickly on the counter-attack. In the back, central defenders Nat Borchers and Chad Marshall will be under constant attack by a team that likes to build up through the middle with quick passing and one-on-one challenges. Both teams will be missing a reserve defender due to red cards received in their respective final opening round matches. Omar Monjarez received yellow cards in the 13th and 90th minutes in the 1-1 draw with Costa Rica, while U.S. left back Jose Luis Burciaga received a straight red card for handling the ball in the box in the 29th minute. Below are the probable starting lineups for both teams, followed by a team capsule for Mexico:
USA (4-4-2): 1-D.J. Countess; 16-Chris Wingert, 6-Nat Borchers, 14-Chad Marshall, 3-Ricky Lewis; 8-Logan Pause, 7-DaMarcus Beasley, 9-Brad Davis, 15-Bobby Convey; 10-Landon Donovan ©, 20-Ed Johnson.
MEX (4-4-2): 1-José De Jesús Corona; 3-Mario Pérez, 4-Aarón Galindo, 14-Francisco Rodríguez, 6-Ismael Rodríguez; 5-Gerardo Espinoza, 8-Diego Martínez ©, 15-Sergio Ponce, 23-Luis Ernesto Pérez; 10-Juan Pablo García, 11-Rafael Márquez Lugo.


Mexico (MEX)

Current MNT World Ranking: 7
Nickname: Tricolores
Head Coach: Ricardo Lavolpe
Past Olympic Results: Has the second most all-time Olympic appearances (nine) in CONCACAF behind the U.S., but missed out in 2000 after falling to Honduras 5-4 in a dramatic penalty kick shootout after a 0-0 draw in regulation and extra time in Hershey, Pa., on April 28. Their best showing was at Atlanta 1996, when they advanced to the quarterfinals before falling 2-0 to eventual champion Nigeria.
Road to Guadalajara: Automatically qualified for the final round as the host nation of the tournament.
Last Pre-Tournament Match/es: Beat Honduras 1-0 on Jan. 17 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., then defeated Norwegian club team Hammerby FC 3-2 in L.A. on Jan. 24.

Final Mexico Olympic Qualifying Roster (* key player at each position)
Below is the updated 20-player Mexico U-23 roster, broken down by position with Mexican club in parentheses:
Porteros / Goalkeepers (2): José De Jesús Corona* (Atlas CF), Cirilo Saucedo Najera (León);
Defensas / Defenders (7): Jaime Duran (Atlas CF), Aarón Galindo (CDSC Cruz Azul), Hugo Sánchez Guerrero (Tigres UANL), Omar Monjaraz (Jaguares), Mario Pérez (CID Necaxa), Francisco J. Rodríguez* (CD Guadalajara), Ismael Rodríguez (CF Monterrey);
Volantes / Midfielders (6): Rodolfo Espinoza (CID Necaxa), Ismael Iñiguez (Pumas UNAM), Diego Martínez (CID Necaxa), Luis Ernesto Pérez* (CF Monterrey), Gonzalo Pineda (Pumas UNAM), Sergio Amaury Ponce (CD Toluca FC);
Delanteros / Forwards (5): Juan Carlos Cacho (CDSC Cruz Azul), Gerardo Espinoza (Atlas CF), Juan Pablo García (Atlas CF), Rafael Márquez Lugo* (CA Monarcas Morelia), Luis Alonso Sandoval (CD Guadalajara).

TWO IMPRESSIVE STREAKS ON THE LINE, STUCK ON 19: Mexico will be looking to extend its 19-game unbeaten streak in CONCACAF U-23 Qualification, with their last defeat coming at the hands of the U.S., 3-0 on April 26, 1992, in Bethlehem, Pa. But the U.S., perhaps unknowingly, has a much bigger weight on their shoulders, as U.S. Soccer's National Teams have qualified for 19 consecutive FIFA outdoor world championships. The only team with a longer streak heading into 2004 was Brazil, but their streak ended after a semi-final loss to Paraguay three weeks ago in CONMEBOL qualifying. The streak includes the five FIFA-sponsored outdoor world championships (World Cup, Women's World Cup, World Youth (U-20) Championship, Under-19 Women's World Championship and Under-17 World Championship) and both the men's and women's Olympic Soccer Tournaments. The last time a U.S. team failed to qualify for an outdoor FIFA world championship was the U-20s in 1995. The U.S. has another important streak on the line, having qualified for every Olympics -- six in a row -- since 1976 (it did not compete in the 1980 Moscow Games because of the U.S. boycott).

USA 3, MEXICO 1 -- MAY 14, 2003: In the last and only time the U-23 teams of Mexico and the USA have met in recent years, the U.S. walked out of Estadio 3 de Marzo with a surprising 3-1 win and almost 9,000 fans whipped into frenzy after a fluke 85-yard goal by forward David Testo into an empty net in the 92nd minute delivered the final result on May 14, 2003. Six of Mexico's final 20-player roster were on the field, including goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona and forward Juan Pablo Garcia, while 10 of the USA's 20 players were there for the experience, including Donovan and Beasley. The U.S. got on the board first when a Donovan corner kick found the head of Kelly Gray at the back post, where he outjumped a defender and snapped it past Corona in the 11th minute. Garcia drew Mexico even before halftime, heading a pass from Alberto Medina past Countess in the 38th minute. The U.S. got the go-ahead goal in the 75th minute, with midfielder Justin Mapp slashing down the left flank and laying a ball off for forward Alecko Eskandarian to finish in the middle of the box. The final nail in the coffin began with a corner kick in the 91st minute, with the crowd convincing Corona to jog upfield and be a part of what looked to be their final chance to equalize and save face with their fans. The corner was headed out by defender Oguchi Onyewu, then a ball was played back into the box, where Yi poked it out to the corner of the box. Testo, who had entered the match in the 90th minute for an injured Nate Jaqua, pounced on the ball, took one touch and then cranked a long chip that bounced several times and somehow found its way into the goal, nicking the post and crossing the goal line as a chasing defender slid too late and got stuck in the back of the net. The incredible and improbable goal, which was one of five finalists for 2003 Best U.S. Youth Goal, drew the wrath of the rowdy crowd and the U.S. players and staff were sent ducking for cover and shielded by riot police as they left the field.

Scoring:

USA – Kelly Gray (Landon Donovan)             11th minute.
MEX – Juan Pablo Garcia (Alberto Medina)    38.
USA – Alecko Eskandarian (Justin Mapp)       75.
USA – David Testo (unassisted)                      92+.   

Lineups:

MEX (3-4-3): 1-Jose de Jesus Corona; 4-Ismael Rodriguez (3-Jaime Duran Gomez, 65), 2-Hugo Sánchez, 5-Cosme Castro (19-Christian de la Mora, 81); 22-Eduardo Rergis, 7-Joel González, 6-Diego Ramirez (18-Leonel Olmedo, 46), 8-Jose de la Cruz; 10-Juan Pablo García (17-Ismael Íñiguez, 62), 9-Adolfo Bautista ©, 11-Alberto Medina (20-Juan Alberto Esquivel, 70).
Subs Not Used: 12-Cirilo Salcedo, 16-Fausto Pinto, 15-Joel Huigui, 14-Miguel Andony Hernandez.
USA (4-5-1): 1-D.J. Countess; 3-Ricky Lewis (20-Chris Wingert, 46), 4-Oguchi Onyewu, 14-Alex Yi (ejected, 67), 6-Kelly Gray (15-Brian Carroll, 55); 22-Ricardo Clark, 7-DaMarcus Beasley (16-Justin Mapp, 70), 12-Logan Pause, 10-Landon Donovan © (5-Kyle Beckerman, 62), 11-Alecko Eskandarian; 23-Nate Jaqua (2-David Testo, 90).
Subs Not Used: 18-Doug Warren, 17-David Stokes.

MEDIA HYPE HAS MEXICO HESITANT TO FACE U.S.: Well, the Mexican media contingent got what they wanted: a USA-Mexico match-up for all the marbles. The U.S. players have been bombarded with questions about facing the host nation since they stepped off their flight from Houston, so the last few days have been simply more of the same questions about the two team's long history and the recent shift in results. Media and fans alike are very aware that at the full Men's National Team level, the U.S. is 5-1-1 against Mexico in the last seven matches since 2000. Of course, front and center in the public consciousness is the USA's huge 2-0 win over El Tri in the Round of 16 of Korea/Japan 2002. Guadalajara's four newspapers have been full of political cartoons depicting Lavolpe in different fits of worry about tonight's match and headlines referring to tonight as a match of destiny, a battle for the age, a chance at revenge for two summers ago, etc. Radio outlets have been buzzing since Saturday's USA-Honduras outcome, and some have gone as far as to suggest that Lavolpe could lose his job as the Technical Director of the full Mexican National Team if they lose tonight. The Mexican coach denied both the worry and the possible loss of job in a live interview with a panel of broadcasters on Sunday. Also on Mexican TV, there has been a hotline that people can call to cast their vote on who will win the big match. As of Sunday afternoon, Mexico had received almost 1,500 votes (60%), but the USA was holding strong with just over 1,000 votes for 40%.

OLYMPIC QUALIFIERS AROUND THE WORLD: As of tonight, six of the 16 teams that will compete in the 2004 Men's Olympic Football Tournament will have been decided. Greece was the first to be in the competition, automatically qualifying as the host nation long ago. But the other three participants from Europe will be the last to be determined for the tournament, with the teams being decided at the U-21 European Championship from May 27-June 8. In South America last month, Argentina defeated Chile and Paraguay upset Brazil for CONMEBOL's two spots. A week later, Australia defeated their nemesis New Zealand to grab Oceania's lone spot. In Africa, 16 teams have been divided into four groups, with the winners of each earning a ticket to Greece. The current group leaders are Senegal, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Algeria, but the qualifying competition is only half over. Asia will decide its three representatives when qualifying takes place from March 3-May 12. Below is a breakdown of the six confederations and their respective number of spots for Athens 2004:
Host (1): Greece.
UEFA (2): TBD (May 27-June 8)
CAF (4): TBD
AFC (3): TBD (March 3-May 12)
CONCACAF (2): TBD (Feb. 10)
CONMEBOL (2): Argentina, Paraguay
Oceania (1): Australia

For a complete tournament wrap-up, as well as an archive of past "Notes from Guadalajara" and updated team stats and bios, on the web, visit the U.S. Men's Olympic Qualifying competition page at the following link:
http://www.ussoccer.com/events/competitions.sps?iType=326
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