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  • Tuesday, August 15, 2000

    Soccer Nats in tough at Azteca Stadium

    By MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

      The numbers tell the story best.

     In World Cup qualifying at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, the Mexican national soccer team is 40-0-3.

     For the young Canadian national squad, gunning for a tie to increase its chances of advancing to the World Cup, playing at Azteca today (3 p.m., Sportsnet) against Mexico presents an immense challenge.

     "I'm not going to put the guys under pressure and say this is a must-win situation," Canadian coach Holger Osieck said. "Look at the reality. If we can come out of here with a point it would be great."

     If Canada -- 0-1-1 in the semi-final round of CONCACAF qualifying -- can't play Mexico (1-1-0) to a draw, it likely would need to win its final three games to finish in the top two of its four-team group and advance to the six-team final stage.

     "We desperately will be looking for a tie," said Toronto midfielder Paul Stalteri, who on Saturday became the first Canadian to score in the 37-year history of the Bundesliga, the German national league.

     "If we don't get the draw, we're pretty much going to have to win our last three games ... we're definitely behind the 8-ball."

     While the Canadians are decisive underdogs, several factors could work in their favour today.

     The scorching heat, normally a major advantage for Mexico at Azteca, shouldn't affect the Canadians because the forecast calls for the temperature to be close to 20C.

     And the Mexican squad, a powerhouse the past decade, hasn't played up to expectations this year. Canada shocked Mexico 2-1 in a Gold Cup quarter-final match in February.

     What's more, Mexico tied its past two World Cup qualifiers at Azteca in 1997 and Canada was the first team to tie Mexico in Mexico City (1-1 in 1980).

     "I think we have to come out and play a defensive style," Stalteri said. "Mexico is going to come out storming the first 20 or 25 minutes and we're going to have to absorb that.

     "A 0-0 tie would be an ideal scenario."

     BIRCHAM BACK: Canadian midfielder Marc Bircham returns to the lineup today after being sidelined the past five months with an ankle injury. -- with files from CP



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