Australia v Mexico by Thomas Esamie

Australia 3 - Mexico 1

For the first time in as long as I can remember televised Australian national team matches this one was shown on a commercial TV station. Namely the Seven network. Thankfully the halves were uninterrupted by the ubiquitous commercials but the BBC, John Helm (sp?), commentator at the game clearly had little or no idea about either side which was somewhat irritating. Less irritating was the result.

The match kicked off and in the wake of Milotinovic's departure from the Mexican coaching job the new coach was clearly trying some things, perhaps expecting Australia to cause little or no trouble to Mexico regardless. The crowd had thinned out from the earlier Saudi Arabia v Brazil encounter and was very quiet in the first 10 minutes and considering the play they were watching it was scant surprise. Australia and Mexico didn't look like they were terribly keen on being there which in Australia's case may have been quite understandable considering the recent World Cup disappointment. In Mexico's case perhaps the lack of acclimatisation since the injection of some new players goes some way to explain some early waywardness.

It took those 10 minutes for either side to produce a shot at goal and the Mexicans managed to open hostilities with a shot from a very acute angle which Zeljko Kalac managed to hold.

The match built up as a contest and Tony Vidmar can attest to some of the committment of the sides when he was briefly stretchered off afterhe was injured in a tackle.

Mexico were controlling the first half quite consistently with short passes in midfield and looking for runs down the flanks to get behind the Australian defence. In Australias favour was an impressively consistent offside trap and the very tall figure of Kalac who managed to deal with the high balls with the aplomb you would expect from a man who was about twice as tall as most of the Mexicans on the field.

Mexico had the best scoring chance on 25 minutes when some hustling in the penalty area was well closed down by Australia until Mexico rolled the ball back to Lara who simply blasted the ball goalwards. Kalac was caught going slightly the wrong way but managed to throw out his left hand to block the shot which fell straight to the ground and Kalac regathered on the second attempt. A Mexican player slid in before the second, successful, take in an attempt to poach the goal but a free kick was given and Kalac came off second best and needed some attention before continuing.

Australia had been about as threatening as Bambi until the half hour mark and even then the first on target shot was a harmlessly looping header from Aloisi which Sanchez almost fell asleep for while waiting to catch it. Sanchez, however, needed to be very much awake when Aloisi took a very hard swing at a ball in the 6-yard-box back towards the far post and Sanchez instinctively stuck out his left leg to block the shot.

Things looked like heading for a Mexico ahead-on-points result at halftime but just as players started to have halftime thoughts Craig Foster made a surging run through midfield and passed tha ball to Aloisi who, in turn, prodded the ball forward through the Mexican defence and Viduka showed good speed to get to the ball before the defenders ofthe goalkeeper and turned the ball inside the far post before clattering into the goalkeeper to add pain to insult. Australia hardly deserved to lead on the balance of play but as Australia had learnt a fortnight ago all that matters is the scoreline.

Terrazasa was the best chance for a Mexican goal in the half and Australia more than once were in good position to put on the killer play with a numerical advantage (late in the half a 7 on 4) but opted to push the ball around rather than to press the play.

Aurelio Vidmar, who had shown little of value in the first half was substituted for Robert Hooker, a more defensive player, ostensibly to allow Lazaridis to get more forward since it was his side of the field which was most often exploited by Mexico. For Mexico the very experienced Luis Garcia came on to try to rectify the deficit.

Straight from the kickoff for the second half Zelic surged upfield and took a curling shot at goal which was tipped over the bar and from the ensuing corner Alex Tobin had a header on goal which was easily saved.

Soon after a free kick was given to Australia for a push on Viduka and predicably the only person to react to Aloisi's shot was the ball boy who had to retrieve the ball. When, oh when, will we get ourselves a dead ball specialist? Roberto Carlos would be nice.

By now Australia were controlling the game and looked like a good chance to win and although Mexico were still troublesome the few opportunities they got were ruined by overhit passes or wayward and weak shots. When the transmission was lost for 4 minutes I was somewhat apprehensive as to what I had missed but as it turns out the telecast returned just in time for me to witness Aloisi's goal.

Some quick passes found Lazaridis in midfield and he fed the ball forward to Aloisi who ran between two defenders with some nice body swerves and ball control and once through fired home at the near post to put Australia up 2-0. Just as well he took the shot too because on the other side of the goalmouth I suspect Mark Viduka was offside.

Mexico must have had some alarm bells ringing and within 3 miutes Luis Hernandez found himself on the pitch and another 2 minutes later Zelic was being shown a yellow card fora tackle on the substitute. Mexico were pushing for goals now and in a replica of the first half shot at goal a quick corner had Ramirez lauch a bullet at goal only to have one of his forwards get in the way and deflect the ball for a goalkick.

Some more substitutions ensued, another Yellow was shown this time to Slater, and it was an almost spilled cross from Kalac which set the jitters in. Late in the game when a Hernandez pass to Ramirez ended when Kalac brought Ramirez down in the box the jitters, and memories of Iran, had well and truly set in. Hernandez took the penalty and although Kalac guessed right the ball eluded his fingers but not the net and Mexico were back in it and played accordingly. One felt Australia would again do the naive thing and allow, this time, 80 minutes of good work to be undone by 10 minutes of carelessness. Apparently Kalac also got a yellow card.

In an effort to combat this spectre Venables replaced Slater, who I have to say must now have reached the end of his useful life as a national team player, with Tapai. However the gods of meaningless friendlies this time smiled upon Australia and in their struggle to equalise Mexico left themselves open to a counterattack and Aloisi's ball forward found Foster who ran to the goaline oustide the penalty area, having held up the ball well to allow someone to come forward. His cross found the head of Mori at the near post before the goalkeeper or the sole defender had a chance to have a say in the matter. Say what you like about Mori but he is fast and he knows where the net is.

Australia haven't yet managed to figure out how to throw away a 2 goal lead with only injury time remaining, but as soon as they do I'm sure they'll do so but this time it was 3-1 and 3 points. With Brazil and Saudi Arabia to go they may harbour ambitions of a semi-final appearance.

Written by Thomas Esamie