SPORTS

Mexico tops Uruguay in Copa America, making it the team to beat

Mexico forward Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez (14) high fives Hector Herrera, right, after Herrera scored a goal during the first half of a Copa America group C soccer match against Uruguay at University of Phoenix Stadium, Sunday, June 5, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Mexico forward Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez (14) high fives Hector Herrera, right, after Herrera scored a goal during the first half of a Copa America group C soccer match against Uruguay at University of Phoenix Stadium, Sunday, June 5, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Two late goals Sunday night preserved Mexico's image as a team to beat in Copa America.

Before Rafa Márquez and Héctor Herrera scored to give their team a 3-1 victory, the only offense Mexico could muster was an own-goal by Uruguay's Alvaro Pereira four minutes into the match.

That ignominious moment came just after the Chilean anthem was, embarrassingly, played instead of the Uruguay anthem in the pre-game ceremonies. Copa America 2016 blamed the mistake on "a human error."

"It was a lack of respect, nothing more than that," Pereira said.

Cope America officials quickly issued a statement apologizing for the botched anthem.

"This evening during the pre-match ceremony, due to human error, we inadvertently played the incorrect National Anthem," officials said in a statement. "We sincerely apologize to the Uruguayan Federation, the Uruguay National Team, the people of Uruguay and to the fans for this mistake. We will work with all parties involved to ensure such an error does not occur again."

After some tense moments, the late scoring surge finally gave the loud, rowdy, vastly pro-Mexico crowd of 60,025 the victory it expected in the Copa America opener between teams considered the two best in Group C.

"It's step by step," Mexico's Andres Guardado said. "We have the capability. We have a lot of games to go but we have to continue on the same path and know that we are in a good spot but have work to do."

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio knows his team will be the "home" team throughout the competition.

"We have to learn to play as protagonists (crowd favorites)," he said, "and this is how we should play in America."

Márquez's close-range shot in the 84th minute broke a 1-1 tie and Herrera's header from just outside the net added another score in extra time. Márquez's score came 10 minutes after Diego Godin's header tied it for Uruguay at 1-1.

"They struggled and tied the game," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabárez said. "We missed chances and that's just soccer. Mexico happened to get the goals and it's a just result."

Mexico, which never has won the Copa America, has not lost in 20 consecutive games.

Uruguay, a 15-time Copa America champion, was without its best player, Luis Suárez, who injured a hamstring in a match two weeks ago.

Márquez's go-ahead goal came after a pass slipped through his legs and to a teammate, who sent the ball back to him for a wide-open shot at the net.

"I got the pass and I controlled it well," he said, "and put a good shot on it."

Guardado and Uruguay's Matius Vecino drew red cards and will have to sit out a match.

Uruguay was down to 10 players after Vecino left just before halftime after kicking Mexico's Jesus Manuel Corona in the knee.

But despite being at a man disadvantage, Uruguay went on the attack earlier in the second half and, after several near misses, tied it at 1-1.

Guardado drew his second yellow card to set up a free kick for Uruguay. He thought it was an unwarranted call.

"The second one, that happens in soccer 20,000 times," Guardado said. "A player trying to start something by talking to the officials. He hit me and I had to defend myself."

On the free kick, Carlos Sanchez sent the ball into the goal box where, in the match's 74th minute, Godin went up in a crowd and headed it into the right corner of the net. It was the first goal Mexico had allowed in its last 252 minutes of play.

The celebrating Uruguayan players were briefly pelted by water bottles from the crowd.

Early on, the own goal came after a near-perfect center pass from just inside the right sideline by Guardado. Pereira and Herrera both went up for it. Herrera missed but Pereira, trying to head the ball over the net, instead knocked it to the left of goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and Mexico led 1-0.

In the pre-match ceremony foul-up, Uruguay's players stood silently, many with blank stares, as the wrong anthem was played.

"We sincerely apologize to the Uruguayan Federation, the Uruguay National Team, to the people of Uruguay and to the fans for this mistake," Copa America 2016 said in its statement. "We will work with all parties involved to ensure such an error does not occur again."

Uruguay faces Venezuela in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

"We have a very difficult situation against Venezuela," Tabárez said. "If we don't win, we are basically out. There have been many teams that have lost the first match and went on to become champions."

Mexico plays Jamaica on Thursday night in Pasadena, California, in front of what is bound to be another huge crowd at the Rose Bowl.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter & Instagram