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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
Chance will not pass Aguirre by
Mexico manager Javier Aguirre
Mexico have been drawn in one of the toughest groups

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He may not have been long at the helm, but the Mexico coach is determined to make the most of the World Cup adventure which his team came within an ace of missing out on.

Javier Aguirre took charge of the national team last July after a poor start to the qualifying campaign by his predecessor Enrique Meza.

After winning only one of the first five games in their final qualifying round, Mexico only just made it to Japan and Korea.

Now they are firmly wedged between a rock and a hard place in Group G alongside three-time champions Italy, 1998 semi-finalists Croatia and Ecuador, who finished second to Argentina in the South American contest.

The awesome responsibility, lonely spotlight and interminable pressure rests firmly on Aguirre's shoulders. But he remains focused, determined and cool.

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We have not got five Blancos or seven Marquez - I want the Mexican team to be very level and not for anyone to outshine anyone else
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Javier Aguirre

"We are on the right road. I'm confident and extremely enthusiastic. Our morale is high and we are very optimistic," Aguirre said.

"I believe in our ability, and we are going to have a good World Cup."

Aguirre has also had to run the gauntlet of nagging media accusations that he has experimented with his line-ups far too much, far too late.

In reply, he logically explains there is not an unlimited reservoir, nor an embarrassment of riches on which to call.

Croatia striker Alen Boksic
Aguirre says Alen Boksic's Croatia must be beaten

When he arrived in the eye of the storm last year, he recalls: "I had to change virtually the whole team and I had to create an emergency team to gain us qualification.

"We have used 48 players in 20 matches and that is not a very big quantity.

"We have not got five (Cuauhtemoc) Blancos or seven (Rafael) Marquez. I want the Mexican team to be very level and not for anyone to outshine anyone else."

Striker Blanco and defender Marquez are among the few certainties in Aguirre's final 23-man selection.

"Individuality should be for the benefit of the team. We need a block of players around a star. Everyone has to work and pull their weight," the coach said.

He also acknowledges that a 2-1 defeat in a February friendly against Yugoslavia was an invaluable, if rather rough, testing lesson for the whole team.

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The matches against Ecuador and Croatia have to be won no matter what so we can come to the match with Italy with the necessary points already in our pockets
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Javier Aguirre

They recovered to beat Albania by a comfortable 4-0 margin a month later.

Mexico must now use that experience in the final preparations ahead of the clash with another Balkan team, Croatia on 3 June.

"We have learned that European football is played more strongly than in Mexico and than in the Americas as a whole," Aguirre said.

"They play to a much faster rhythm. So we must find strategies to retain the ball as much as we can and affect them through this, without too much physical contact.

"All the world is talking about the group which includes England, Argentina, Nigeria and Sweden.

"But our group, without quite so much quality, is still very comparable.

"Any of three teams in our group could qualify for the next round.

"The matches against Ecuador and Croatia have to be won no matter what.

"It's all or nothing, so we can come to the match with Italy with the necessary points already in our pockets."

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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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