Crowd jeers eliminated U.S. soccer team

Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2004

GUADALAJARA, Mexico The boos nearly drowned out ''The Star-Spangled Banner,'' and a few dozen fans chanted ''Osama! Osama!'' as the United States was eliminated by Mexico in Olympic men's soccer qualifying.

A loud anti-American crowd hollered as Mexico beat the United States 4-0 Tuesday night in the under-23 tournament, claiming a berth in the Athens Olympics.

As U.S. players left the stadium for their bus, several fans some clutching beers chanted ''Osama! Osama!'' in reference to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

''It's better than having things thrown at you,'' U.S. Soccer Federation president Bob Contiguglia said Wednesday after returning to Colorado Springs, Colo. ''I was bothered by the whistling during the national anthem. It's just the way it is. You accept it. Our kids showed a lot of dignity. They didn't do silly things on the field.''

Police in riot gear held back the crowd and urged people to calm down.

''I think the fans here in Mexico are terrific; I think their patriotism and support of their team is terrific,'' U.S. coach Glenn Myernick said. ''But unless I missed something, not one of them came down on the field and kicked the ball. We were beaten by a better football team tonight, not by the fans.''

For Mexico, the game partly avenged a 2-0 loss to the United States in the second round of the 2002 World Cup, a far more important tournament involving national teams.

The U.S. men will miss the Olympics for the first time since 1980 when the entire American delegation boycotted the Moscow Games. Mexico also ended the United States' 19-tournament streak of qualifying for every FIFA men's outdoor event, including the World Cup, the Olympics, the World Youth Championship for players under 20 and the Under-17 World Championship.

''We all feel that these things are learning experiences and something to grow on,'' Contiguglia said. ''I don't think it's a reflection on the program; the program is doing outstandingly well. I feel bad for the kids, who don't get to go to the Olympics. It shows at that age group we're just not as strong as we are elsewhere.''

Mexico is unbeaten in 20 consecutive Olympic qualifiers since a 3-0 loss to the United States on April 26, 1992.

While both Mexican national television networks broadcast Tuesday's game live, the game was shown in the United States on closed circuit to about 190 restaurants.

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