NEWSMAKER-Soccer-Sanchez promises World Cup, loses to Guatemala

RIO DE JANEIRO, March 31 (Reuters) - Sixteen months after taking over as Mexico coach and promising to win the World Cup, Hugo Sanchez was sacked after his team finished third behind Canada and Guatemala in an Olympic qualifying tournament.

Sanchez, the finest player Mexico has produced, was finally given the job he had craved in November 2006 and was told it was his until after the 2010 World Cup.

Famously patriotic and highly critical of foreign influences on Mexican football, Sanchez took over amid high expectations, saying his winning mentality would rub off on a team of perennial underachievers.

Instead, he slunk out the back door on Monday, three months before Mexico had even played their first match in the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign.

As a player, Sanchez was prolific marksman in one of Real Madrid’s most stylish teams, known for his trademark somersaults after scoring goals and the key striker in the Real team that won five consecutive league titles in the 1980s.

He played for Mexico more than 70 times, including three World Cups, scoring 47 goals.

His coaching career began promisingly when he won back-to-back Mexican championships with Pumas UNAM.

But, as his confidence grew, Sanchez became increasingly outspoken and even some of his admirers were alienated.

He launched increasingly insulting personal attacks on Argentine Ricardo La Volpe, the Mexico coach at the time.

But when he was finally given the job himself, Sanchez was unable to practise what he had preached.


Before taking over, Sanchez had complained the team played too many friendlies in the United States but this continued and last week’s 2-1 win over Ghana in London was the first time Mexico had ventured outside the Americas under his leadership.

Having criticised La Volpe for fielding picking naturalised players, Sanchez did the same thing himself.

Sanchez’s reign got off on the wrong foot when Mexico lost 2-0 to old rivals the United States.

Six months later, they lost to the U.S. again, this time in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final.

Mexico had staggered through the tournament, losing to Honduras and managing single-goal wins over Panama, Guadeloupe, Cuba and eight-man Costa Rica.

Things looked brighter at the Copa America as Mexico beat Brazil 2-0 and thumped six goals past Paraguay on their way to the semi-finals, where they lost to Argentina.

But the pressure was on again after a shock 3-2 defeat by Guatemala in a friendly the following October.

Sanchez’s downfall came after he agreed to lead the under-23 team in the Olympic qualifiers, a task which appeared to be a formality.

Instead, they drew with Canada, lost to the Guatemalans again and went out on goal difference after beating Haiti in their last game.

Critics said Sanchez’s 4-4-2 tactics were too rigid, his substitutions were uninspired and the team’s preparations poor.

Sanchez’s brash promises had turned to pleas for patience but the Mexican federation said one failure was enough and two weeks later he was fired.

“We want winners and leaders, we cannot accept another failure,” said Justin Compean, president of the Mexican federation.

“If you thought this was difficult, can you imagine Mexico not being in South Africa.?”

Editing by Ed Osmond