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Jan 27, 2009

Mexico to arrive in Columbus earlier

Mexico's national team will arrive in Columbus, Ohio, two days earlier than usual in an attempt to get acclimated to the cold weather expected for its World Cup qualifying match against the United States on Feb. 11 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2), ESPNSoccernet has learned.

The Mexican delegation typically travels 1½ days before international game days. For a Wednesday game, they would normally touch down in the host city on Monday night.

However, ahead of the high-profile tilt against the U.S., coach Sven-Goran Eriksson's squad will begin to filter in late Saturday night, giving the team an opportunity to practice in the elements on Feb. 9 and 10. Furthermore, its European-based players will head directly to the U.S. and not to Mexico first, according to ESPN Deportes' John Sutcliffe.

Still, the visitors know there is little they can do to adequately prepare for the potentially harsh conditions.

U.S. men's schedule
U.S. vs. Mexico
Feb. 11
Columbus Crew Stadium; Columbus, Ohio
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2 HD

"As far as I know, there's nothing we can do about the weather, unless we play inside a dome," Guillermo Cantu, director of Mexico's national teams, told Sutcliffe. "So we're just going to deal with it."

In February 2001, when the Mexicans' opening match of the final round of CONCACAF qualifying was also against the U.S. in Columbus, El Tri decided to skip the pregame "warmup" (the temperature was 29 degrees at kickoff). Mexico was visibly affected by the frigid conditions and lost, 2-0, on goals by Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart. The U.S. also won there by the same scoreline in a September 2005 qualifier.

This year, after the Hexagonal draw was announced in November, U.S. Soccer again scheduled the tilt in Columbus in order to give its team a true home-field advantage against its archrival. In addition to the weather, selecting intimate (capacity 24,700) Crew Stadium also gives the hosts the ability to control ticket sales, limiting availability to Mexican fans.

The tables will be turned for the Aug. 12 rematch in smoggy Mexico City, where El Tri enjoys perhaps an even greater advantage. The intimidating, cavernous 110,000-seat Azteca Stadium sits 7,350 feet above sea level, and the Americans' all-time record south of the border is 0-22-1.

Injuries and suspensions have decimated El Tri ahead of the February match, but the under-fire Eriksson's lineup is still expected to include several European-based players who are accustomed to the cold. In 2001 and 2005, the majority of Mexico's top stars played for clubs at home.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.

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