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World Cup: Uruguay beats Mexico, 1-0

June 22, 2010 |  8:58 am

Javier Aguirre
talks tough, though at heart Mexico's coach is a sentimental softy. And until Tuesday, sentiment played well in South Africa.

But Aguirre’s decision to start Cuauhtemoc Blanco in his team’s World Cup group-play finale against Uruguay didn’t work out as well, with Uruguay riding Luis Suarez’s first-half goal to a 1-0 win.

The victory gives Uruguay, undefeated and unscored upon in the World Cup, the group’s top seed in the second round. Mexico will also advance to the knockout round by virtue of a better goal differential over South Africa, which beat France, 2-1, on Tuesday to finish group play with four points, the same as Mexico.

But by advancing as the group runner-up, Mexico must face Argentina in the knockout round. Argentina, perhaps the most dominant team in this World Cup, sent Mexico home from the 2006 tournament in the second round.

Yet despite the high stakes, with Carlos Vela unavailable because of injury Tuesday, Aguirre decided to give Blanco his first start of the tournament. And he gave him the captain’s armband too.

Something that may have figured into Aguirre’s thinking was the fact that Tuesday’s game marked Blanco’s 11th in World Cup play, tying a 44-year-old Mexican record, one that defender Rafael Marquez also equaled Tuesday. And given what Blanco has meant to Mexican soccer over the last 15 years, it’s a record no one wanted him to tie by coming off the bench.

But soccer is about results, and Blanco twice came close to rewarding Aguirre for his loyalty. Early in the first half he nearly scored on a header, but his 37-year-old legs didn’t have enough spring to go up and meet Giovani Dos Santos’ cross.

Four years ago, Blanco would have netted the ball; this time he fell to the ground, spread-eagled in frustration, and Dos Santos’ pass rolled beyond the end line.

Several minutes later, Blanco played a nice chip pass in front of a sprinting Dos Santos, but a Uruguayan defender slowed the Mexican midfielder just enough to let the ball roll beyond the end line untouched.

Mexico’s best first-half scoring chance came off the foot of midfielder Andres Guardado, who was also making his first start in this World Cup. He got off a blistering shot from about 25 yards that clearly beat Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera, but the ball hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced away.

Suarez didn’t miss on this best chance, giving Uruguay a 1-0 lead three minutes before the half, one-hopping a header past Mexican keeper Oscar Perez off a perfect cross from Edinson Cavani.

Blanco had another chance in the opening minutes of the second half, but his free kick from about 40 yards skidded into Muslera’s lap.

Midway through the half, Mexico had another chance to tie the score; however, Francisco Rodriguez’s diving header just missed.

By then Blanco was back on the bench, coming out 17 minutes into the second half for Javier Hernandez, a symbolic passing of the torch since Blanco, an icon in Mexico and arguably the best player of his generation, will step aside after this World Cup, turning El Tri over to the precocious Hernandez, a 22-year-old who will join Manchester United next month.

Before that happens, however, both have at least one more chance to add to Blanco’s impressive resume against Argentina. And perhaps beyond.

-- Kevin Baxter in Rustenburg, South Africa

Photo: Uruguay's Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring with three minutes left in the first half against Mexico on Wednesday. Credit: Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters.