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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Blanco relieves a nation
Cuauhtemoc Blanco v Germany at France 98
Blanco first caught the eye foir Mexico at France 98

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It is fair to say Cuauhtemoc Blanco has attitude.

Reared in one of Mexico Cityıs most violent districts, he has not even checked his stride in the face of death threats during a wondrously incident-packed career.

He also happens to be the most gifted Mexican striker of his generation.

Open Quote
I'll be here if Aguirre needs me
Close Quote
Cuauhtemoc Blanco
changes his mind

No wonder, then, that a nation breathed a collective sign of relief when Blanco reversed his decision to quit the Mexico team after scoring twice in the decisive 3-0 triumph over Honduras which booked their place at the World Cup finals.

The spat which prompted the resignation threat had been typical Blanco.

He was fuming because the Mexican federation (FMF) flew him in for the vital clash from Spain, where he plays for Real Valladolid, on a flight which he considered to have too many stop-offs.

Federation officials had also controversially refused to pay for an injury operation, and Blanco, who has never cared who he upset, simply was not having it.

Changing his mind, however, is also a Blanco prerogative, and this he duly did, when his notoriously fiery temper cooled.

"I'll be here if Aguirre needs me," he then pledged.

For Mexico, a team without Blanco is like rice without beans.

The 29-year-old was named after the legendary Aztec warrior emperor Cuauhtemoc, a national symbol whose statue keeps guard over Mexico City's 8.6 million inhabitants.

When he scores, Blanco sometimes salutes his illustrious ancestor by bending down on one knee and extending his right arm to the heavens.

Cuauhtemoc Blanco
Blanco scored nine goals during qualifying

Unfortunately, the statue actually in the pose on the Paseo de la Reforma is that of Diana the Hunter rather than Cuauhtemoc - but nobody holds the anomaly against him.

His other celebrations certainly do hit the spot. Just ask Atletico Celaya goalkeeper Felix Fernandez, who irritated Blanco by foolishly claiming he would never score against him.

When Blanco predictably did, he curled his leg around the post to perform his now notorious impersonation of a urinating dog.

Evidently, he has a penchant for personal battles and canine imagery.

After humiliating Atlas defender Hector Lopez by running him ragged during one particular league game, he told the press he treated the veteran "like a dog because that is what he is".

Brought up in Tepico, the neighbourhood of Mexico City dubbed The Bronx because of its obscenely high murder count, Blanco is not easily intimidated.

He revelled in making an America Cali defender "eat dust" despite a perfectly true warning before the encounter that in Colombia you can be killed for speaking out of turn.

And anybody who thinks the Mexican is a one-trick pony after his France 98 party piece, when he beat two South Korean players by jumping through them with the ball between his heels, is mistaken.

The Hunchback, as he is affectionately known for his awkward running style, scored nine of Mexico's 16 goals in the qualifiers.

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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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