Mexican fans will be out in force, but outnumbered by Americans in Columbus.
Mexican fans will be out in force, but outnumbered by Americans in Columbus. Scott Halleran

US, Mexico to clash in soccer World Cup qualifier

FOOTBALL: Three days after Donald Trump's shock win in the US presidential election, there is real potential for a wall being lined up against Mexico...on the football pitch.

With USA-Mexico relations on a knife-edge the two nations will clash in a crucial qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup on Saturday morning (10.45am AEST).

The rivalry between the two football sides is already bitter. The weekend's clash may go to a whole new level.

MAPFRE Stadium, the 20,000-seat site of the MLS Columbus Crew, will host the biggest international game on American soil in three years.

"There's just history here," veteran U.S. defender Matt Besler said.

"The fans have always been supportive of us, and I think it's changing now that it's not just people from this area. There are people from all over the country who are flying in to be a part of this game."

The familiar spot a few miles west of sprawling Ohio State University and its 105,000-seat football stadium has been good to the Americans. The U.S. has never lost there in 11 games (8-0-3) and has beaten El Tri 2-0 in four consecutive home qualifiers, in 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013.

"The majority of U.S. fans fill up that stadium. It's incredible," said U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, a Mexican-American who plays professionally in the Mexican league.

"You don't really get that anywhere else you go, so it's definitely an advantage for us to play here in Columbus. It's not the biggest stadium, it's intimate but it's loud, people are close to the pitch so it's going to be great."

Matt Besler of the United States.
Matt Besler of the United States. Robert Cianflone

Players began arriving Monday for training ahead of the match and know they will see a stadium bulging at its seams with American fans. U.S.-Mexico matches in the past years at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California; San Antonio, Texas; and Phoenix have attracted a good percentage of El Tri supporters.

"Here in Columbus, we know that one way or another, the majority are going to be our people," said Mexican-American goaltender William Yarbrough, who also plays in the Mexican professional league.

"We know of the great fans that Mexico has in the United States. So it's also important to look for those venues where we know that the support is going to be 100 percent for us, this is one of them."

The top three nations qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and the No. 4 team advances to a playoff against the fifth-place Asian team for another berth.

Mexico has gone 12-1-2 since former Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls manager Juan Carlos Osorio took over in October 2015.

The loss came in the form of a 7-0 quarter-final defeat to Chile in Copa America Centenario in June. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann's crew looks to make it five straight home World Cup Qualifying wins against Mexico.

"We know the crowd is going to be on our side," said 20-year-old midfielder Lynden Gooch, who plays for Sunderland in the English Premier League. "They're going to be our 12th man, as they say, and it's going to be rocking. It's going to a fierce rivalry. There's a big three points at stake."

- NZ Herald

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