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Fix fears overshadow Mexico clash with Uruguay

sports Updated: Jun 20, 2010 15:11 IST

The shadow cast by one of the most shameful episodes in football history provides the backdrop to the meeting between Mexico and Uruguay in Rustenburg on Tuesday in a match that could end France's stay in South Africa.

Les Bleus' shock defeat by Mexico means the two Latin American countries find themselves needing only a point for them both to go through to the knockout stages of the competition, a situation some fear will lead to them contriving the required result.

That was what happened in Spain in 1982 when Germany and Austria knew a 1-0 win for Germany in their final group game would see both sides advance and eliminate Algeria.

Horst Hrubesch gave Germany an early lead and the two sides played out the rest of the 'contest' at walking pace.

More recently, Italy cried foul when a 2-2 draw between Denmark and Sweden sent the Azurri home from Euro 2004, although few neutrals saw that match as a fix.

For Uruguay, a point would be enough for them to top group A but, with Argentina looking strong favourites to top group B, Mexico do have an incentive to go for a win.

Three points would ensure Javier Aguirre's squad top the group and probably give them a better chance of reaching the quarter-finals at the expense of South Korea, Greece or Nigeria.

Playing for a win however inevitably carries the risk of being picked off on the counter-attack and suffering a defeat that could allow troubled France to sneak into the knockout phase by beating South Africa in their final match.

FIFA has said it trusts all 32 teams in the tournament to honour the principle of fair play but, in this situation, there is little football's world governing can do if both sides adopting zero risk tactics leads to a goalless draw.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said his side would approach the match "as if we were just setting out on the group phase," while Aguirre underlined that side's priority was getting into the last 16.

"We just want to make sure of getting through to the next round. I hope my team are sound and will be strong and solid as they were against France."

An independent view on the likely outcome of the match comes from the bookmakers, who have set shorters odds on a draw than for any other match so far.

But the fact that they are still prepared to take a wager on the fixture indicates that they do not regard a stalemate as a foregone conclusion.

"We are prepared to believe that the game will be competitive until someone proves to us it isn't!" said Graham Sharpe, spokesman for British firm William Hill.

"However, this is likely to be the shortest price offered for any World Cup game to end in a draw! We may be green but we aren't cabbages!

Mexico will be without Arsenal striker Carlos Vela, who has been sidelined by a hamstring injury suffered in the win over France.

Key to match

Ambition. For both Uruguay and Mexico, a place in the last 16 will represent mission accomplished as far as their pre-tournament objectives go. Whether this match will degenerate into a non-competitive encounter will largely depend on the extent of Mexico's desire to get the win that could mean they avoid Argentina in the second round and give themselves a better chance of going further.