WASHINGTON -- Score it Efficiency 2, Elegance 0 in Group E of the 15th World Cup.
Italy and Mexico are the stylish, short-passing sides in what is generally agreed to be the strongest of the tournament's six four-team groups. Ireland and Norway are cast as less-skilled practitioners of the global art, but they're the ones sitting atop the "Group of Death" after their opening games.
Norway's 1-0 defeat of Mexico kicked off the World Cup at steaming RFK Stadium yesterday, and the impact was felt 250 miles away at the Italians' training camp in New Jersey.
Group E favorite Italy, which the day before was stunned by Ireland by the same score, faces Norway at Giants Stadium on Thursday, and even before the weekend's events, it was an encounter the Italians weren't relishing. Now the Norwegians will be content with a tie, because four points -- three for a victory, one for a tie -- probably will ensure advancement to the round of 16.
It was another day for the wearin' of the green in Group E, as about three-fourths of the RFK crowd of 52,395 cheered for Mexico. The air wasn't entirely festive, as the Mexicans wore small black arm bands to honor their 12 fans who died in the crash of a private plane at Dulles International Airport the day before.
In a stylistic replay of the Italy-Ireland match, Mexico had more touches, but Norway got nearly as many chances with its counterattacks, as the Norwegians saved energy in the 96-degree heat by conceding the midfield.
The lone goal occurred after some Mexican defenders waited for a whistle that never came.
Hungarian referee Sandor Puhl had his whistle nearly to his mouth when Jan Fjortoft was taken down outside the penalty area on the right side in the 85th minute.
Part of the Mexican defense momentarily froze while Fjortoft nudged the ball forward, but instead of calling a foul, Puhl invoked the advantage rule as Kjetil Rekdal beat Claudio Suarez to the free ball. Rekdal, a midfielder who had come on just eight minutes earlier, sent a 12-yard shot inside the far post as Norway finally solved Jorge Campos, Mexico's 5-foot-6, cat-quick goalkeeper.
"This is my greatest experience ever," Rekdal said. "This is a perfect start for the Norwegian team."
Campos, who is to soccer attire what Florence Griffith Joyner was to track and field fashion in 1988, got more attention, but the yeoman work in the goal came from Norway's Erik Thorstvedt.
Mexico's attack often fizzled in the final third of the field, but it severely tested Thorstvedt in a four-minute sequence midway through the second half that had everyone gasping.
In the 74th minute, the past and future of Mexican soccer combined in a two-man game that required Thorstvedt to make the save of the match. Rising star Luis Garcia passed forward to 35-year-old Hugo Sanchez, got the ball back and scorched a 25-yard bullet that Thorstvedt was barely able to push to the right.
Three minutes later, Ignacio Ambriz popped another cannon from the same spot to Thorstvedt, and within moments Sanchez sent a bicycle kick wide.
Mexico came agonizingly close to getting the equalizer in the final moments, when Luis Alves' header from close range caromed off the right post and across the goal mouth, where it finally was cleared by Henning Berg.
"Unfortunately, we were not very lucky today," said Alves, also known as Zague. "Norway is a fine team, but I believe we dominated the game. That's what bothers me so much."
Even though England didn't qualify for the World Cup, it is having a large impact on Group E. Most of Ireland's players are professionals there, as are seven of the 13 players Norway used against Mexico.
Thorstvedt works for Tottenham Hotspur. Jostein Flo, a 6-5 forward whose target talents scared Mexico, plays for Sheffield United.
Not all of Norway's leaders work in England, however. Rune Bratseth, a steadying influence on what coach Egil Olsen claims is the only true zone defense in the world, plays in Germany. Rekdal, a 25-year-old, does his goal-scoring for Lierse in the Belgian First Division.
WORLD CUP TODAY
* Brazil vs. Russia at Palo Alto, Calif.,
4:05 p.m., ESPN
* Netherlands vs. Saudi Arabia at Washington,
7+ 7:35 p.m. (ESPN tape delay, 12:25 a.m.)