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World Cup: Mexico vs. France: Scoreless at the half

Mexico Coach Javier Aguirre has done the math. So he knew going into Thursday’s showdown with France in chilly Polokwane that there was only one result that would help his team’s World Cup chances: A win.

"We’re going to play tomorrow as if it’s our last match," Aguirre said.

And El Tri did in a frantic -- but scoreless -- first half, one that unfolded like a frustrating repeat of Mexico’s tournament opener against South Africa, a match that ended in a 1-1 tie.

Five times in the opening 30 minutes, Mexico had excellent scoring chances. And each time it missed.

In the opener, Mexico had six great chances. And each time it missed. That first half also ended scoreless.

On Thursday, after Gio Dos Santos broke in alone and was ruled offside less than two minutes in, Carlos Vela got Mexico’s first legitimate chance, leading a three-on-one break in the ninth minute. But instead of dropping the ball for one of his teammates, he took an ill-advised left-footed shot that sailed wide over the net.

Three minutes later, Guillermo Franco, who twice misfired on headers against South Africa, sailed a shot over the top of the net after making a good turn to get free on the edge of the penalty box.

Carlos Salcido then missed twice, aiming for the far post and missing with a left-footed shot and in the 27th minute firing a hard shot right at French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who stood his ground to make the save.

In the 32nd minute, Vela left with an injury and was replaced by Pablo Barrera, who immediately rushed the net on his own scoring chance.

With Uruguay having beaten South Africa, 3-0, on Wednesday to take the lead in the Group A standings with four points, a tie Thursday does neither France nor Mexico any good. A victory for either team, however, and the winner would be tied with Uruguay and in control of its destiny with a match left in group play.

Which is why Mexico captain Rafael Marquez, echoing his coach, called the match "crucial."

France, coming off a tournament-opening scoreless tie with Uruguay, was not only fighting to avoid elimination, but also to avoid a repeat of 2002, when it bowed out of the World Cup after group play having failed to score a goal.

But the French are habitually slow starters, having failed to win their opening match at the last two World Cups and at the last European Championship.

"Every time the France team has had its back to the wall, it has come through," France defender Patrice Evra said. "We have to win this match to put ourselves in a favorable position."

Aside from a trio of free kicks that went nowhere, the French did little offensively against a Mexican team that pushed forward throughout the first half.

-- Kevin Baxter in Johannesburg, South Africa

 
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