Football / World Cup USA '94: Jubilant Mexico leave Italy to scramble through

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ITALY, suddenly a stuttering force in a competition they have dominated on three occasions, crept like late guests at a wedding into the knockout stage of the World Cup here yesterday. After finishing behind Mexico and the Irish in Group E, Arrigo Sacchi's unsettled team were forced to wait until Cameroon slipped up late last night before their progress was confirmed.

Their questionable reward for going through via the tradesmen's entrance is a meeting with the newly imperious Argentina in Boston next Tuesday. At the same time, Mexico, jubilant after being suspended for Italia '90, entertain either Nigeria or Bulgaria in New York.

'The world now knows that we are an up-and-coming world power,' Luis Alves, Mexico's striker, said after Marcelino Bernal had cancelled out Daniele Massaro's opener.

The labyrinth of equations dominating the Group of Death - or 'Group that Sleeps with the Fishes', as Americans termed it - demanded Italy assume the initiative against a patient Mexico side who were seeking only a draw, having scored one goal more than Italy.

The nature of Sacchi's much-discussed homework on the Mexican defence became apparent immediately as blue-shirted players continually attacked the space between Jorge Campos and his protective back-four. Campos, his garish garb reminiscent of a counterfeit Andy Warhol print, was the busier keeper throughout as Sacchi's strategy threatened to let the Azzurri enter the Aztec sanctuary.

After 25 minutes of cat- and-mouse sparring, Italy produced a move in keeping with their coach's thinking. Sensing that Mexico were momentarily undermanned on one flank, Roberto Baggio lofted a 40-yard through pass from right to left.

An all-Lazio interchange between Giuseppe Signori and Pierluigi Casiraghi culminated in the latter cutting the ball back for Signori to hook a hard shot straight at Campos.

Italy, driven by the greater urgency, enjoyed the better chances of a half of increasing intensity. Roberto Baggio, showing occasional glimpses of his undoubted talent, and Nicola Berti both escaped Mexican markers for long enough to test Campos, who reacted smartly to block low shots.

Campos's agility and positional acumen proved insufficient three minutes after the break when Demetrio Albertini chipped over the Mexican defence for the quick-thinking Massaro. The Milan substitute, at 33 the oldest player on the field, duly dispatched the invitingly rising ball past Campos from 12 yards.

But Campos's side, lifted by their massed choirs who maintained their mantra of 'Mexico' throughout, soon restored parity. Signori could not intercept Carlos Hermosillo's driven lay-off to Bernal, who drilled the ball low from right to left past Luca Marchegiani.

ITALY (4-4-2): Marchegiani (Lazio); Benarribo, Apolloni (both Palma), Costacurta, Maldini (both Milan); Berti (Internazionale), Albertini (Milan), D Baggio (Palma), Signori (Lazio); R Baggio (Juventus), Casiraghi (Lazio). Substitutes: Massaro (Milan) for Casiraghi, h/t; Donadoni (Milan) for D Baggio, 65.

MEXICO (4-4-2): Campos (UNAM); Rodriguez (Toluca), Suarez (UNAM), J D Ramirez (Santos Torreon), Del Olmo (Vera Cruz); Garcia (Atletico Madrid), Bernal (Toluca), Ambriz (Necasa), Garcia Aspe (Necasa); Alves (America), Hermosillo (Cruz Azul). Substitute: Chaves (Atlas) for Garcia, 83.

Referee: F Lamolina (Argentina).