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Mexico arrives at Copa amid crisis

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PUERTO LA CRUZ, Venezuela (Reuters) -- Mexico has arrived at the Copa America in crisis following yet another defeat to the United States and amid reports of splits in the dressing room.

Mexico kicks off its Copa America campaign against Brazil in Puerto Ordaz on Wednesday and the clash with the defending champions could not come at a worse possible moment for coach Hugo Sanchez.

The former Real Madrid striker spent the previous three years sniping at his predecessor Ricardo La Volpe and promising to turn Mexico into world beaters.

But those claims sounded very hollow in this month's Gold Cup as Mexico needed extra-time to beat eight-man Costa Rica in the quarterfinals, then struggled to a 1-0 win over Caribbean islanders Guadeloupe in the semis.

To cap it all, it then lost yet again to the United States in Sunday's final in Chicago, leaving the U.S. unbeaten in its last nine home games against the Mexicans.

Two Mexican newspapers took it as a personal failure for Sanchez, who repeatedly promised beforehand that Mexico's team would reflect his own winning personality.

"Hugo fails at the Gold Cup" and "Hugo, you're not approved," said La Jornada and Record respectively.

Mexico was greeted by a torrential downpour as it arrived in Venezuela on Tuesday, missing European-based Carlos Salcido, Ricardo Osorio and Pavel Pardo.

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The trio all pulled out of the competition last week, claiming they were tired after a long season.

But the Mexican media interpreted their withdrawl as a sign that the camp was split into "La Volpists" -- admirers of the former coach -- and "Hugoists."

Salcido, Osorio and Pardo were all key players under La Volpe and are all widely regarded as being admirers of the Argentine, who is now coaching Velez Sarsfield in his homeland.

In fact, the shadow of La Volpe is looming ever larger over Sanchez.

La Volpe has tended to keep a low profile in the last few months, avoiding the temptation to renew hostilities with his personal rival, but on Sunday was busy giving radio and television interviews.

"He always said he understood the Mexican football environment," La Volpe said. "Now he has to turn a blind eye, to be intelligent and work positively with his team."

La Volpe is also reported to have phoned some of his former disciples last week to give them advice.

Earlier this year, Sanchez set his team two objectives: to win the Gold Cup and reach the semifinals of the Copa America.

A second failure could mean that this dream of coaching his country ends up being a very short one.