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U.S. soccer bounced to jeers of "Osama'

Published Feb. 12, 2004|Updated Aug. 27, 2005

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-Qaida 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, 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."

The defeat followed a Nov. 7 qualifying loss to Mexico that will keep U.S. baseball players out of the Games.

"In all areas of the game, they outplayed us," Myernick said.

The Mexicans repeatedly lofted passes into a penalty box flooded with attackers who often slipped loose from confused U.S. defenders.

"There were too many times when our defenders didn't do a good enough job of slowing the attack down," Myernick said.

Mexican forward Rafael Marquez Lugo, criticized earlier in the tournament for blowing easy scoring chances, scored at 27 and 55 minutes.

Diego Martinez and Ismael Iniguez also scored for Mexico, which would have had more goals if not for leaping saves by D.J. Countess and a blown open-net shot by Iniguez.

If American players were bemoaning the failure to make the Olympics, Mexico seemed to be looking to a bigger prize: the 2006 World Cup.

The victory "is very important, because (the players) are going to face many more challenges, possibly in the World Cup in 2006," said Mexico coach Ricardo LaVolpe, who also guides the main national team.

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