November 15, 2002

Mexico Moves One Step Closer to Women’s World Cup

By John Philip Wyllie

The women’s national soccer team of Mexico drew one step closer toward competing in its second consecutive Women’s World Cup with its 4-1 Gold Cup victory over Costa Rica on Saturday. As the third place finisher from the Football Confederation which includes the United States and Canada and many Central American and Caribbean nations, Mexico must now win a home and away two-game series with an as of yet undetermined Asian nation.

Leonardo Cuellar (left) is interviewed at the Rose Bowl by LA Times sportswriter Grahame L. Jones

While naturally delighted to have won the crucial game against Costa Rica, Mexico’s head coach, Leonardo Cuellar, was not pleased with the lack of cooperation he received from various universities and professional teams that kept several key players from participating.

“I think we can put a better team on the field, but obviously that will depend on the commitment from the professional league and the universities,” Cuellar told reporters. “It is something that we really have to work very hard (on). Obviously, it is not my decision, but I’m not happy that some Mexican girls that have played for Mexico before and some that play (currently) for the universities were not allowed to be with us.”

One of the best of the half dozen players denied him lives locally. Former Bonita Vista High and current USD star Cristina Romero was high on Cuellar’s wish list. Romero, a junior for the NCAA playoff bound Toreros is currently playing on the backline for USD, but she can also play effectively in the midfield. With regular starters such as Liza Nanez, Gina Oceguera-Eagleson, Ana Del Bosque and Linnea Quinones unavailable, Cuellar was forced to depend upon younger, less experienced players. One of them was Chula Vista’s Lina Valderrama who at 18, was the youngest starter in Mexico’s lineup.

“I was really nervous because this was the most important game that we’ve had,” said Valderrama after playing most of the game in Mexico’s midfield. “Now that we have won, we will have to get ready and prepare ourselves to play against the (third place) team from Asia. We don’t know who that will be,” she said. “We will go to Mexico for more training at the end of November, return home for the Christmas holiday and then go back there in January and train some more.” The two-game series against the third place Asian team will take place in May.

While playing in the tournament was a great experience for the young Valderrama, it was also a struggle. In the semifinal, Valderrama accidently knocked in one of the two own-goals Canada used to defeat Mexico 2-0.

“Being so young, I don’t think she recovered very well (from the own-goal), Cuellar said. “But she has talent. Now she has to realize that the physical part of it is there, but she needs to develop some other things to be successful. The reading of the game (for example) is so important.”

With a possible trip to China’s 2003 Women’s World Cup hanging in the balance, Valderrama and her teammates will have plenty of motivation as they train and await their Asian opponent.

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