Republic of Ireland. .1
THE Republic of Ireland were forced into a drastic reappraisal of their chances of advancing to the second round of the World Cup yesterday when they followed their outstanding victory over Italy with this surprising, but deserved, defeat.
In stifling temperatures which soared to 110 degrees, the Mexicans made their familiarity with the conditions count, scoring in either half through Luis Garcia to stun the vast Irish following into silence.
At that stage, Jack Charlton's pride and joy had slumped to the bottom of the group but, thanks to a late consolation goal from their substitute, John Aldridge, Ireland ended the day joint top alongside Mexico. A draw with Norway on Tuesday in New Jersey should see them through.
With Andy Townsend and Tommy Coyne fully restored after the illness and infirmity which restricted their training this week, Charlton, as expected, named an unchanged team. Mexico's fragile position was reflected in their decision to leave out five players from the side beaten by Norway, the major surprise being the omission of Hugo Sanchez, the former Real Madrid hero.
Before the start there were yet more waves to emerge from the Fifa-induced fluids fiasco. Two members of the Irish back-up team were told they could not throw water bags on to the pitch for the players from the touchline, because they did not have the correct accreditation. Only when the president of the Football Association of Ireland, Michael Hyland, offered to exercise his right arm to relieve those who were gasping in the conditions did Fifa relent.
The capacity crowd were soon treated to the characteristically crazy antics of Jorge Campos, the colourful goalkeeper who, in his vivid outfit, resembled an explosion in a paints factory. Attempting to show his own dribbling skills - he has had some success as an outfield player in the national team - he rounded one embarrassed Irishman but, faced immediately by another, hurriedly kicked into touch.
Ireland's passing was more haphazard than it had been against Italy. On too many occasions possession was wasted, and that encouraged the Mexicans who showed that, given half a chance, they had the ability and the determination to take full advantage of any gifts that came their way.
Kurt Rothlisberger, the Swiss referee, did not endear himself to the huge Irish support when Denis Irwin, delaying a throw to seek out a free white shirt, was booked. His second yellow card in successive matches means he will miss Tuesday's game.
Phil Babb came to his team's rescue when Paul McGrath had been bypassed by the clever Alberto Garcia Aspe as Mexico began to come on strong, their growing confidence all too evident. Nevertheless, with another half chance, Charlton's men were able to declare their intent again. Townsend ran on to meet a Steve Staunton long throw, and he launched himself full length to make the header and force a decent save from Campos.
Then, a minute before the break, Mexico took the lead. They worked the ball sweetly between a number of players around the penalty area and when Carlos Hermosillo laid it back, Garcia, one of his country's rising stars, buried his shot past the right hand of Pat Bonner.
The goal shook the game out of its slumber. The Irish pushed greater numbers forward, which left spaces for the Mexicans to fill. Roy Keane's through-ball gave John Sheridan a glimpse of goal, but his shot was that of a weary man. The same player then sent a header wide after Terry Phelan's spadework. There was the smell of an equaliser in the air; instead Mexico were to increase their lead when Irwin was caught in possession and Garcia helped himself to a second in the 66th minute.
Ireland introduced Jason McAteer and Aldridge. A second booking for Phelan meant he, too, will have to sit out the third game. It was all going wrong. Then a chink of light as, with six minutes remaining, McAteer centred into the goalmouth for Aldridge to apply a firm scoring header.
There was so nearly a last-gasp equaliser, as Townsend unleashed one of his specials off his left boot - but it was not to be as Campos took off to his left and palmed the ball away.
MEXICO (4-4-2): Campos (UNAM); Rodriguez (Toluca), Suarez, Ramirez Perales (both UNAM), Del Olmo (Veracruz); L Garcia (Atletico Madrid), Ambriz (Necaxa), Bernal (Toluca), A Garcia Aspe (Necaxa); Hermosillo (Cruz Azul), Alves (America). Substitutes: Gutierrez (Atlante) for Rodriguez, 80; Salvador (Atlante) for Hermosillo, 80.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-5-1): Bonner (Celtic); Irwin (Manchester United), Babb (Coventry City), McGrath (Aston Villa), Phelan (Manchester City); Houghton, Townsend (both Aston Villa), Sheridan (Sheffield Wednesday), Keane (Manchester City), Staunton (Aston Villa); Coyne (Motherwell). Substitutes: Aldridge (Tranmere Rovers) for Coyne, 67; McAteer (Bolton Wanderers) for Staunton, 67.
Referee: K Rothlisberger (Switzerland).
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