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FINDING A SILVER LINING LOSE AND ADVANCE MEXICO CAN'T BEAT PORTUGAL, BUT STILL REACHES NEXT ROUND PORTUGAL 2, MEXICO 1.

Byline: SCOTT FRENCH Staff Writer

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany -- It was a recipe for disaster: poor finishing, a red card and two penalty kicks, neither going Mexico's way.

A quick two-goal deficit, and the goings-on in Leipzig were gaining in importance. The Tricolores, one of eight seeded teams in the World Cup, were in jeopardy of missing the second round.

A false alarm, it turned out. The 2-1 loss Wednesday to Portugal in front of 52,000 at Arena AufSchalke exposed several failings, not the least Mexico's struggles up front with Jared Borgetti on the sidelines, but it proved virtually meaningless. Angola couldn't hold a lead against Iran, and the Tri -- with a 1-1-1 record in Group D -- joined the unbeaten Portuguese in the round of 16.

A date with Argentina, the tournament's most impressive team, awaits Saturday at Leipzig's Zentralstadion, and if it appears a mismatch, the Mexicans can think back to last year's meeting, in Hannover in the Confederations Cup semifinals. A 1-1 draw, both goals in overtime, and Argentina moved on through penalty kicks.

Borgetti says he'll be ready if needed Saturday -- he missed Wednesday's loss and last Friday's scoreless draw with Angola with a thigh injury -- and it surely appears he's needed. Mexico, as against Angola, created plenty of chances, but putting them away was, mostly, too much to ask. Francisco ``Kikin'' Fonseca, making his first World Cup start, managed to score, heading home a Pavel Pardo corner kick in the 29th minute to halve Portugal's early advantage, but nothing else seemed to work.

Omar Bravo, who tallied twice to beat Iran in Mexico's opener, missed a second-half penalty kick that would have tied the score, and he and Fonseca whiffed when provided opportunities in the final half-hour.

``We're getting into the area, and we're creating chances,'' coach Ricardo Lavolpe said. ``But it's all about scoring goals.''

Borgetti is Mexico's all-time goals leader, with 38, and his presence seems to enable the Tri's other forwards to score. They know he'll do the job, so the pressure is off, and that helps them finish better.

With Borgetti out, Fonseca and Bravo are pressing, and the results are as one might expect.

Bravo especially struggled, firing well high on his penalty try in the 57th minute, then shooting high again the next time he had an opportunity, from just outside the box seven minutes later.

``I think about a lot of things (after missing the penalty),'' Bravo said, ``but first is that I have to recuperate very fast, because the game is right in front of us.''

It was, from the start. Mexico was more aggressive from the opening whistle, but it left space open in midfield, and Portugal took advantage in the sixth minute. Three quick passes freed Simao Sabrosa on the right wing, and as he reached the Tri box, three defenders moved out to confront him. A square ball rolled across the top of the box, and Maniche raced in to blast it, first time, into the upper-right corner.

The second Portugal goal, on Simao Sabrosa's 24th-minute penalty kick, was a gift. Rafael Marquez, Mexico's captain, is apt to do stupid things, and he reached up and punched a Luis Figo corner kick to prevent Fernando Meira from getting a head to it. Marquez tried to be subtle -- he hit it with his knuckles, then quickly withdrew his hand, but Slovakian referee Lubos Michel wasn't fooled.

Fonseca's goal minutes later followed Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo's fine stop on Bravo, and Pardo challenged the keeper from distance just before halftime.

Winger Luis Perez tried to bring Mexico back, falling twice in the box when confronted by Miguel. The first time it won the penalty, which Bravo missed. The second brought Perez a yellow card, his second of the afternoon, and Mexico was down to 10 players the final 30 minutes or so.

There were a few more chances, the best by Portugal, which held on for the 2-1 victory despite resting five starters -- including three of its biggest stars in Deco, Pauleta and Cristiano Ronaldo -- all with yellow cards, all as a means of avoiding picking up another yellow card, which would have meant a suspension in the second round, in which the Portuguese will play the Netherlands on Sunday in Nuremberg.

Mexico, Pardo said, was ``sad at the end because we lost the game, then we got to the locker room'' where the Tri learned it had qualified for the second round. So a loss was a win.

``Right now it doesn't matter if we won 1-0 or lost 4-0 -- we moved on,'' defender Ricardo Osorio said. ``Right now we're happy.''

Forward Guillermo Franco knows plenty about the next opponent: He, like Lavolpe, was born in Argentina.

``They have a lot of experience and a lot of talent, but I'd rather speak about Mexico. We're playing well, we just have to score. Our biggest rival right now if Mexico. ...

``We have to keep our heads up high, because there are a lot of teams that are going to their houses. I think you saw a lot of pride out there, even when we had 10 men. Mexico stuck its chest out.''

scott.french@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3627

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, 12 boxes

Photo:

(1 -- color) Mexican forward Luis Perez is sandwiched between Portuguese players Petit, left, and Tiago during Wednesday's World Cup Group D match. Mexico lost 2-1, but advanced to the second round anyway.

Volker Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

(2) Portugal's Maniche celebrates after scoring during the Group D match against Mexico.

Murad Sezer/Associated Press

Box:

(1) GHANA vs. UNITED STATES

(2) ITALY vs CZECH REPUBLIC

(3) CROATIA vs. AUSTRALIA

(4) BRAZIL vs. JAPAN

- Scott French

(5) GROUP A

(6) GROUP B

(7) GROUP C

(8) GROUP D

(9) GROUP E

(10) GROUP F

(11) GROUP G

(12) GROUP H
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 22, 2006
Words:975
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