Soccer

Nearly 80,000 watch Croatia edge Mexico in World Cup tuneup at AT&T Stadium

Mexico fans cheer on their team against Croatia, Tuesday night, March 27, 2018 played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Mexico fans cheer on their team against Croatia, Tuesday night, March 27, 2018 played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Special to the Star-Telegram

The Mexican National Team brought with it a weather system Tuesday that dumped abundant blessings of springtime on Dallas-Fort Worth.

Fortunately, Mexico and Croatia didn’t have to worry about the conditions in an international friendly. Sports host extraordinaire Jerry Jones had the accommodations covered, literally, at AT&T Stadium with the added bonus of his superb southern hospitality.

To no surprise, the stadium was the ideal place for more than 70,000 El Tri soccer partygoers, who washed out a small contingent of Croatia fans by singing along pregame to cultural favorites and belting out a stirring rendition of the Bocanegra’s and Nuno’s El Himno Nacional Mexicano.

It was better than a Bon Jovi concert, and made a Dallas Cowboys crowd seem a sleepy-eyed Sunday drive along an old, little-used country road in comparison.

In the end, however, the electricity supplied by a sellout crowd of 79,123 did nothing help Mexico’s Juan Carlos Osorio alleviate his dampened spirits in a 1-0 loss.

It had nothing to do with the outcome.

Mexican National Soccer Team Coach Juan Carlos Osorio discuses developments of the US men’s national team as it relates to his program in preparation for the 2018 World Cup.

The coach and manager didn’t get the game he wanted, a World Cup tuneup against a team that resembled first-game Group F opponent Germany on June 17 in Russia.

Instead, Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic sent six players back to Europe, including Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic.

And to make matters all the more worse for El Tri, two key pieces were lost to injury. Nestor Araujo (left knee) and Carlos Salcedo (shoulder) each left with what Osorio termed “serious” injuries. Jesus Corona (ankle) was held out of the game.

“It is huge a setback … injuries that at the moment are very serious and the chance to become worse,” Osorio said. “I can digest the result, but the injuries, I am very concerned and very unhappy.

“I think that with a professional player in any sport, it’s a setback. Nevermind two or three months before the World Cup. For these guys, the World Cup means so much. I can honestly that I’m deeply sorry for what happened today.”

Croatia captain Ivan Rakitic converted a penalty kick, zipping a shot pat Guillermo Ochoa at the 62-minute mark.

Croatia enjoyed a shots-on-goal advantage of 4-3.

“Tonight, we played very well,” Dalic said. “Very aggressive, compact, good defense. I’m very happy with how my team played.”

In addition to Modric and Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic, Marcelo Brozovic, Nikola Kalinic and Danijel Subasic also didn’t make the trip after a 2-0 loss to Peru on Friday in Miami.

Dalic said he wanted to make to make the best use of these two games to evaluate his younger players, whom he raved about.

“We spoke before the game,” Dalic said. “I told him my reason. I know he’s disappointed. We have good young players and a good bench, and I wanted to see how they reacted. They showed me everything I wanted.”

Dalik’s decision to sit key pieces wasn’t the only source of international intrigue.

El Tri midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez was also on hand, expected to get a last look before Osorio makes his final cuts for the team that travels to Russia in search of a first Mexican World Cup title.

Gonzalez, 18, set off somewhat of a cold war between U.S. Soccer Federation, already snippy after missing out on the World Cup, and the Mexican federation. Gonzalez was born in Santa Rosa, Calif., but possessed dual citizenship.

He took advantage of that status to choose the Mexican national team over the United States’, believing that though he lived in the land of the free and home of the brave, the land of Juarez was a better home for his soccer ambitions.

“It’s a delicate matter,” Osorio said a few weeks ago. “It is a family matter. The player and his parents should make the decision. We had a good conversation with him and his family. I strongly suggested that the decision was theirs, not mine, not the Mexican federation’s. There will be cases where the answer will be the other way around [when a Mexican-American choose the States]. At the end of the day, I strongly believe it is the happiness of the boy that counts most.”

Gonzalez, however, did not play.

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