World Cup: Red Devils give way to red faces in the heat

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Belgium 2 Wilmots 43, 48 Mexico 2 Garcia Aspe pen 56, Blanco 63 Att: 34,750

THE TERM "red devils" has never seemed an appropriate nickname for Belgium. Yes, they are in their fifth straight World Cup finals, took fourth place in 1986 and reach the knockout phase with monotonous regularity. But rarely do they strike fear into the opposition as red devils should. At France 98, they have been positively forgiving in their treatment of the opposition.

Unless they hit South Korea hard in their final group match on Thursday and the Dutch beat Mexico, Belgium will go out of the World Cup at the group stage for the first time since 1970. Red devils? Red faces, more like.

With seven players over the age of 30, the pressure was bound to tell sooner or later. It certainly did on Saturday against the Mexicans. In heat that even the Latins said was stifling (it was 97 degrees in the shade), the ageing Belgians squandered a 2-0 lead and huffed and puffed through the last 20 minutes as the younger Mexicans, at one stage a man short until both teams were reduced to 10 each, almost won the game. "The tank was empty," admitted the Belgian coach, Georges Leekens.

Even with the recall of Enzo Scifo, well past his best at 32 but still able to muster more creative touches than most of his team-mates, Belgium failed to hold on to a two-goal lead. Two points from two matches is the story of their World Cup so far.

"Maybe this team is getting a little old," confessed their veteran goalkeeper Filip de Wilde, playing in his third World Cup. "The players selected were the best available but maybe it's time for a change." Only the tireless Marc Wilmots, who scored both goals for his country on Saturday, deserved to be excused from the general criticism of Belgium's performance.

As for Mexico, they have surprised possibly even themselves. Like Nigeria, they have shrugged off a horrible warm-up period to peak when it counts. Four different players have scored Mexico's five goals to date, while Ramon Ramirez has been a revelation in midfield. They deserved their draw, secured by a penalty from Luis Garcia Aspe and then a splendid volley from Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

BELGIUM (4-4-2): De Wilde (Anderlecht); Deflandre (Club Bruges), Staelens (Club Bruges), Vidovic (Mouscron), Borkelmans (Club Bruges); Van der Elst (Club Bruges), Wilmots (Schalke 04), Scifo (Anderlecht), Boffin (Metz); Oliveira (Fiorentina), Nilis (PSV Eindhoven). Substitutes: Verheyen (Club Bruges) for Boffin, 18; De Boeck (Anderlecht) for Van der Elst, 67; L Mpenza (Standard Liege) for Nilis, 77.

MEXICO (4-3-3): Campos (UNAM); Suarez (Guadalajara), J Sanchez (Guadalajara), Davino (America), Pardo (Atlas); Ramirez (Guadalajara), Garcia Aspe (America), Ordiales (Toluca); Blanco (Necaxa), Hernandez (Necaxa), Palencia (Cruz Azul). Substitutes: Arellano (Guadalajara) for Palencia, h-t; Villa (America) for Ordiales, 58; Lara (America) for Garcia Aspe, 68.

Referee: H Dallas (Sco).

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