February 7, 2003

Mexico Surprises In Australia Cup

By: John Philip Wyllie

Leonardo Cuellar, the coach of Mexico’s women’s national soccer team selected a young squad to play in the just concluded Australia Cup. And they produced some surprising results. Mexico held its own against two previous Women’s World Cup participants.

El Tricolores opened the tournament with an impressive showing against Sweden leading 1-0 throughout most of the match. Though Sweden ultimately pulled back a goal two minutes into stoppage time to salvage a tie, the effort was at least a moral victory. Australia, another WWC’99 participant, had to rely on an own goal and one that should have been called back due to offside to gain a 2-0 victory in what was a competitive match.

The most important match of the tournament however, was the one played February 1 against South Korea. Against what could be its opponent in a May home and away series with Women’s World Cup implications, Mexico prevailed 2-0. Lina Valderrama, a former Bonita Vista High student with duel Mexican-American citizenship saw plenty of playing time in Australia.

“I started all three matches as an outside midfielder on the right side,” Valderrama said in Tuesday phone interview. Valderrama has been Cuellar’s first choice at the position in recent months and she is excited about the possibility of representing Mexico in the next Women’s World Cup which begins in September in China. The 2-0 victory over South Korea, makes that dream appear within reach.

“Our coach told us to play like it was the game to qualify for the World Cup because it might turn out that South Korea will be the team that we have to beat to get there.” They followed Cuellar’s advice. “We stepped on the field stronger than they did and we ended up claiming the victory,” Valderrama said.

Valderrama and her teammates will be busy in the coming months as the prepare to take on South Korea or whichever Asian team qualifies for the crucial May series.

“We have to report to Mexico City for camp on Monday,” Valderrama said. “Then we will move on to Guadalajara where we’ll play two games against the U.S. U-19 national team. Following that, we’ll return to the U.S. and play the U.S. U-21 national team at the Arco Olympic Training Center.” The worldwind tour continues with additional training and matches in Houston and Indiana. Valderrama hopes that will just be the beginning.

Should they prevail in May, Mexico will no doubt play several pre-World Cup tune-up matches, then the World Cup itself and finally the Pan-American Games.

At some point Valderrama would like to attend San Diego State to continue her education. In fact, she is meeting with the Aztecs coach on Monday to discuss her future there. Her enrollment will have to wait however because after all, playing in a World Cup is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

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