Football: World Cup -Mexico go through at a price

Netherlands 2 Cocu 4, R de Boer 19 Mexico 2 Pelaez 75, Hernandez 90 Att: 35,500
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The Independent Online
AN EQUALISING goal by Luis Hernandez in the fifth minute of stoppage time provided a fitting climax to a spirited second-half display by Mexico yesterday. Unbeknown to the jubilant Hernandez, however, Belgium's failure to overcome South Korea in Paris meant that even had they lost Mexico would have gone through to the second round along with the Netherlands from Group E.

Perhaps also if someone had told Ramon Ramirez, the Mexican midfield player, that South Korea had equalised against the Belgians he would not have protested so vehemently, earning himself a red card, after an 88th- minute effort from Cuauhtemoc Blanco was ruled out for offside. It seemed the Mexicans had been hard done by, but replays showed the dec-ision to be a correct one and they will miss Ramirez's cultured left foot in the next round.

The Netherlands, who only needed a point to make sure of heading the group, began in the same irrepressible vein that swept South Korea aside in their last match, scoring here after four minutes when Philip Cocu raced on to Dennis Bergkamp's superb pass and flicked the ball past Jorge Campos for his second goal of the tournament. Mexico responded five minutes later but Ramirez's shot following a quick free-kick was palmed to safety by Edwin Van der Saar.

The Dutch, however, were finding space at will, and it was no surprise when they increased their lead after 18 minutes. Cocu won the ball in the air for Ronald de Boer, who evaded Claudio Suarez and Joel Sanchez before sliding his shot in off the far post.

Mexico might have been three down before the break, as first Bergkamp's header was clawed away by Campos after an error from Duilio Davino and then Marc Overmars, played through by Cocu, chipped Campos but the ball dropped the wrong side of the post.

Five minutes into the second half Cocu rattled the bar after a great one-two with Bergkamp, but thereafter Guus Hiddink's side began to take their foot off the pedal. Fifteen minutes from time, a header by substitute Ricardo Pelaez from German Villa's corner found its way through a packed penalty area past Van der Saar and suddenly the Dutch looked vulnerable.

Six minutes from time Jesus Arellano, another substitute, was inches away from connecting with Salvador Carmona's low cross, then came the contentious offside and Ramirez's dismissal. Edgar Davids and Aron Winter missed good chances to wrap it up for the Netherlands, but with virtually the last kick of the match Hernandez latched on to a loose ball to equalise.

NETHERLANDS (4-4-2): Van der Sar (Ajax); Reiziger (Barcelona), Stam (PSV Eindhoven), F de Boer (Ajax), Numan (PSV Eindoven); R de Boer (Ajax), Jonk (PSV Eindhoven), Davids (Juventus), Overmars (Arsenal); Cocu (PSV Eindhoven), Bergkamp (Arsenal). Substitutes: Winter (Internazionale) for Jonk, 71; Bogarde (Barcelona) for Numan, 72; Hasselbaink (Leeds) for Bergkamp, 78.

MEXICO (3-5-2): Campos (UNAM); J Sanchez (Guadalajara), Suarez (Guadalajara), Davino (America); Carmona (Toluca), Villa (America), Garcia Aspe (America), Ramirez (Guadalajara), Luna (UNAM); Blanco (Nexcaca), Hernandez (Boca Juniors). Substitutes: Arellano (Guadalajara) for Luna, h-t; Pelaez (America) for J Sanchez, 55.

Referee: A R Al-Zeid (Saudi Arabia).