Dos Santos leads Mexico to win over New Zealand

Giovani dos Santos stood out on the field for more than just his
electric blue cleats.

The smooth-operating forward scored twice in the first half and
Aldo de Nigris added another, lifting Mexico to a 3-0 win over New
Zealand in the team’s final tuneup Wednesday night before opening
the defense of its CONCACAF Gold Cup crown.

Mexico was clicking along in the first half, keeping constant
pressure on New Zealand’s inexperienced defense. With a 3-0 lead at
halftime in front of 45,401 fans, nearly all rooting for ”El
Tri,” the team made wholesale changes, including subbing out dos
Santos to rest the talented scorer.

”We got better as the game went along,” dos Santo said through
an interpreter. ”In the first half, we were able to take advantage
of the opportunities we had.”

This was Mexico’s last game before the Gold Cup, soccer’s
championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean. Mexico
will play in Group A with Costa Rica, Cuba and El Salvador. The
team starts with El Salvador on Sunday and Javier Hernandez is
expected to be with the squad.

The standout striker missed the game against New Zealand after
playing for Manchester United in a 3-1 loss to Barcelona last
weekend in the Champions League final.

As for the lineup at forward come Sunday, Mexico’s coach Jose
Manuel de la Torre was evasive.

”I am happy with what I’ve seen of the team,” he said. ”I
just have to keep working with them before the opening of Gold
Cup.”

Dos Santos shrugged off the looming decision as well.

”He’s a player that always supports the team,” dos Santos said
of Hernandez. ”He’s had a great year. He’s just going to help the
team a lot when he comes.”

Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa had a rather easy evening for Mexico,
hardly forced to make any saves against the Kiwis. He finished with
just two saves as the Kiwis struggled to generate any offense
against Mexico.

”I had to put new players in tonight. We were very light,” New
Zealand coach Ricki Herbert said. ”Mexico is a great team.”

Dos Santos put Mexico on the board first when he scored off a
rebound in the 23rd minute. Carlos Salcido took a shot from the
left corner that bounced off the hands of New Zealand keeper Glen
Moss and straight to the foot of dos Santos, who sent a low liner
into the net.

Just 7 minutes later, dos Santos scored again by corralling a
deflected ball in the box, juking Moss and all but walking it into
the net.

The 22-year-old dos Santos spent time this season playing for
Spain’s Racing Santander after being loaned from Tottenham.

Asked about dos Santos’ play, de la Torre quickly brushed it
off.

”I don’t always talk about one or two particular players. I
talk about the team as a whole,” he said. ”I watched for players
and how they worked in the way the overall team works together.
That is what I saw tonight.”

With one shot, a rough first half instantly turned around for de
Nigris. After having a goal wiped away when he was offsides, and
being stopped twice by Moss from close range, de Nigris scored in
the 43rd minute when he tapped in a pass from Andres Guardado.

Mexico finished its U.S. exhibition tour 3-0-2, drawing an
average of 51,000 fans.

The team simply has that kind of appeal.

Even three hours before the game Wednesday, the atmosphere in
the parking lot was electric as a ”futbol fiesta” was set up,
complete with giveaways, games and plenty of face-painting
booths.

Nearly all the fans in attendance were decked out in Mexico’s
familiar colors of green, white and red. The most popular jersey
was that of Hernandez, his nickname of ”Chicharito” – meaning
”little sweet pea” – was emblazoned on the back.

”He’s really good. He’s definitely my favorite player,” said
28-year-old Hugo Lopez, who drove to the Mile High City from
Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his dad to see the team play.

Lopez was sporting a faux-hawk haircut that was dyed the colors
of ”El Tri.” But in this crowd, he barely stood out as those hues
seemed to be a popular choice.

”The Mexican support always helps us a lot, helps the team a
lot,” dos Santos said of the festive crowd. ”We’re always very
thankful to the fans because they’re what helps us play at such a
high level.”