December 24, 1998
Los Angeles Mexico made women's soccer history last Saturday, Dec. 19 defeating Argentina, 3-2, at Velez Sarsfield Stadium in Buenos Aires to earn the final berth in 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Mexico and Argentina earned the right to play for the final spot by finishing second in the CONCACAF and South American qualifying tournaments respectively. Mexico's Cinderella story has seen them rise from double-digit losses in qualifying for the 1991 and 1995 Women's World Cups, to a narrow 1-0 loss to Canada in this year's CONCACAF Qualifying tournament, to becoming the first Spanish-speaking country in Women's World Cup history.
The two playoff matches were the first for new Mexico Head Coach Leonardo Cuellar, the former Mexican National Team star and current head men's coach at Cal State Los Angeles. Cuellar played a decade for UNAM Pumas in the Mexican first Division and was a member of the 1972 Mexican Olympic Team. He played several seasons in the NASL for the San Diego Sockers and played for the Tricolores in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.
Mexico had won the first leg, 3-1, in Toluca, Mexico on Dec. 11, and needed only a draw or a loss by less than two goals to advance on total goals, but instead, came from behind to win the second leg and take the two-game series, 6-3, on aggregate.
Mexico started quickly and dominated the first part of the match, taking a lead in the 28th minute through Maribel Dominguez, who also scored in the first leg. Two minutes later, however, Mexico's Fatima Leyva fouled Argentina's Maria Villanueva in the penalty box, and Yanina Gaitan finished the penalty kick to tie the game.
Argentina attacked for the rest of the half and took the lead in the 38th minute through a Malvina Peralta header. Mexico tied the match in the 50th minute when Monica Gerardo, one of more than a half-dozen Mexican-American players of the national team, scored from outside the penalty box. Evelyn Lopez scored the wining goal in the 80th minute.
Mexico's resurgence has been led by the Mexican-American players, but Gerardo, the all-time leading scorer in University of Notre Dame history, was the only Mexican-American player to score in the playoff series with the remaining four goals scored by Mexico's veterans.
Mexico completes the 16-team Women's World Cup field, the largest ever, and will join the host USA, Oceania champion Australia, South American champion Brazil, CONCACAF champion Canada, Asian qualifiers China, Japan and North Korea, European qualifiers Sweden, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Germany and Russia, and African qualifiers Nigeria, and Ghana. The 1999 Women's World Cup takes place next summer from June 19 to July 10 in seven communities across the United States.