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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Mexico target lucky 13
Sanchez falls to his knees during a group match against Paraguay in 1986
Sanchez has loomed large in recent Mexican history
Played 37, won eight, drawn eight and lost 21. Goals for: 39; goals against: 73.

Mexico do not exactly have a World Cup record to match Brazil's.

But the most successful central and northern American side in the history of the tournament is heading to Japan for a 13th World Cup finals appearance.

And there are more than a few supposedly big fish in the world game who would love to boast that kind of record.

One of Jorge Campos' many colourful creations
Campos is known for his shirts and acrobatics

Less sought-after is the reputation they acquired when they were expelled from the 1990 qualifying tournament for lying about the ages of their youth internationals.

The USA benefited most from their removal from their qualifying group, reaching the finals in Italy for the first time for 40 years.

So their record may be inglorious and few matches involving the team have lingered long in the memory.

But Mexico has played a key part in the tournament's evolution since its inception in 1930.

It was on a Sunday afternoon in mid-July of that year that Mexico took to the field for the first ever match in the tournament.

Admittedly they were thrashed 4-1 by France and only 1,000 fans gathered for the game.

But they were not helped by an injury to their goalkeeper Alex Thepot, who left the field after just 10 minutes to be replaced by the left-half.

Unlikely hosts

There would be no substitutes allowed in World Cup matches for another 40 years.

With the French and Italians, the Mexicans are one of only three nations to have hosted the event more than once - in 1970 and 1986.

On both occasions they were unlikely hosts, selected ahead of Argentina in 1970 and holding the event 16 years later only when original hosts Colombia withdrew due to a lack of finance.

They made their first real impact in 1970, finally reaching the knockout stages at the seventh attempt.

But that achievement turned sour when the Italians defeated them 4-1 in a tournament dominated by Brazil.

If 1970 belonged to Brazil - and Pele in particular - 1986 belonged to Maradona.

Hugo Sanchez profile
Born: 11 June 1958

Clubs: Unama (Mexico), Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid (Spain), America, Rayo Vallecano (Mexico)
World Cup appearances: Eight
World Cup goals: One

Mexico's second attempt as hosts was a success in terms of organisation, and once again they reached the quarter-finals.

Again, though, they lost 4-1, albeit this time unluckily on penalties to the West Germans after a 0-0 draw in Monterrey.

Apart from the distinction of being the first nation to host the World Cup for a second time, other moments of substance have been scarce for Mexico.

The history books show that they boast the first substitute to score in the tournament, Juan Basaguren netting the fourth goal in the 4-0 win over El Salvador in 1970.

They also introduced the Mexican Wave to the world in 1986.

A more recently, have been remembered for the acrobatic celebrations of Hugo Sanchez and the brightly-coloured shirts of goalkeeper Jorge Campos.

Sanchez, top scorer in the Spanish league on five occasions, represented his country in eight World Cup matches and remains the most influential figure in Mexican football history.

He performed an acrobatic somersault after every goal for club and country, as taught to him by his gymnast sister.

And, after a World Cup qualifying campaign that has featured 7-0 and 7-1 victories, who is to say his successors will not find something to celebrate at the 13th time of asking?

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GROUP G
  P GD PTS
MEXICO 3 +2 7
ITALY 3 +1 4
CROATIA 3 -1 3
ECUADOR 3 -2 3

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