US soccer coach Bruce Arena, center, speaks with his players during the training session at a Mexico City field, on Saturday March 26, 2005. Team USA will play against Mexico on Sunday, March 27, in a World Cup qualifying match.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
MEXICO CITY Landon Donovan remembers the chants of ''Osama! Osama!'' last year, when the U.S. Olympic soccer team played in Guadalajara.
''It was a little, I guess, humiliating, a little degrading,'' he said Saturday. ''At one point you're surprised and at one point you kind of come to expect it. It's sad, but that's the way it is.''
The U.S. national team is braced for a hostile reception when it faces Mexico for the 50th time, an Easter Sunday World Cup qualifier before more than 100,000 fans in noisy Estadio Azteca.
In Mexico, the United States has been treated like a piata, going 0-21-1 and getting outscored 78-13. But overall the Americans are 6-1-1 in their last eight games against their southern neighbor, getting 11 goals and giving up one. That streak includes a 2-0 victory in the second round of the 2002 World Cup, a game in South Korea that shattered Mexican fans' pride.
''For such a long time they dominated us. I think over not only the last five, six years, over the last 10 years it's been pretty equal,'' U.S. captain Claudio Reyna said before Saturday's practice. ''I think it's a bit insulting to them because soccer is the one and only sport in this country.''
Long the lone power in the North and Central American and Caribbean region, Mexico doesn't like sharing the soccer spotlight with its richer rival. The Americans enter with a 16-game unbeaten streak overall and a 31-game run without a loss against regional rivals.
''The lack of wins over the United States has to end so that the opinion of the Mexican public gets better, more comfortable,'' said Mexico's Ramon Morales, still remembered for missing an open net 15 minutes into the matchup in South Korea.
Sixth-ranked Mexico remains the favorite, especially in the 7,200-foot altitude and smog of Mexico City. The Tricolores are expected by their fans to defeat the Americans, tied for 10th in the world ranking. The Mexicans beat almost everyone at home, where they are 53-1-4 in World Cup qualifiers, the lone blemish a 2-1 loss to Costa Rica in June 2001.
''This is one of the few things we can do better than the United States,'' Mexican forward Jared Borgetti said. ''For many people, winning would be a real relief.''
Mexico began the final round with a 2-1 victory at Costa Rica, its first win there in a qualifier since 1968, and the United States began with a 2-1 victory at Trinidad and Tobago. Only three of the six nations in the finals are guaranteed berths in the 32-nation field for the 2006 tournament in Germany, with the fourth-place team going to a playoff against an Asian nation.
''I think we're extremely confident, not this week necessarily, but overall,'' Donovan said. ''When I first came to the team, it wasn't that long ago, but you just got a sense like getting on the field and competing was good enough and hoping to pull out a result sometimes against the better teams. But now I think we really believe that we should beat teams regardless of who it is.''
To prepare for the game, U.S. players from Major League Soccer have had 16 days of training at altitude, while most of the Americans with European clubs will have six.
Because of public pressure, the U.S. team expects the Tricolores to attack at the outset.
''The first 15, 20 minutes are going to be very important,'' Reyna said. ''I think they're going to throw a lot at us emotionally, throw numbers forward and players forward and perhaps try to intimidate us.''
Arena doesn't think fan chants will get his team off balance. Many of his players have faced hostile crowds before with either the national team, European clubs or both.
''Throwing objects on the field is going over the line. You can't stop fans from saying things. It's all part of it,'' he said. ''The nice part about playing in Mexico is they're shouting in Spanish, so for the most part we don't understand what they're saying anyway.''
Notes: The U.S. team heads after the game to Birmingham, Ala., where it plays Guatemala in a qualifier at Legion Field on Wednesday night. Mexico is at Panama on Wednesday night.
Associated Press Writer Will Weissert contributed to this report.
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