• Wednesday Dec 21, 2011

    Mexico reasserts itself as U-20 power

    Not only was it a year in which Mexico dominated CONCACAF tournaments, 2011 was a year that El Tri's under-20 team returned to the top of the region.

    Two years after it was eliminated at the group stage with a mere draw, Mexico won all five matches, allowed only two goals and claimed its 11th CONCACAF U-20 crown - and then went on to a bronze-medal performance at the U-20 World Cup.

    Along with the senior national team's Gold Cup triumph, their U-17 counterparts winning not only the CONCACAF championship but the World Cup as well, Mexico's U-20 triumph completed a sweep of honors for the nation of 113 million.

    It also gave pause to the rest of the region with Mexico winning the U-20 title for the first time since 1992.

    Ulises Davila, who began his professional career with CD Guadalajara before transferring to Chelsea and Vitesse, emerged as one of Mexico's future leaders with four goals, including one in each half of the final where El Tri rallied from an early deficit to beat Costa Rica 3-1 for the title.

    Davila would go on to score once again at the U-20 World Cup in Colombia, where Edson Rivera led the team with three goals. Mexico's 3-1 victory over France in the third-place match gave the country its highest finish at the tournament since a runner-up performance in the inaugural championship in 1977.

    The bronze medal also came with individual accolades for midfielder Jorge Enriquez, selected as the Bronze Ball Award winner.

    Besides Mexico's re-emergence, the CONCACAF U-20 Championship - played with 12 teams instead of the usual eight -- also delivered new revelations and surprises.

    Joel Campbell had six goals and emerged as the tournament's leading scorer, then went on to debut with the senior Costa Rican side at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and helping the Ticos to a quarterfinal appearance.

    Guatemala, buoyed by three goals from Gerson Lima, used the home-field advantage of Estadio Mateo Flores to reach the U-20 World Cup for the first time. It upset the United States 2-1 in the quarterfinals before settling for third place - outlasting Panama on penalties in the consolation match, its best finish since reaching the final in 1973.

    The "Chapines" success came at the expense of the perennial contender United States, which failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1995. Despite bringing 16 professionals on a 20-man roster, the Americans stumbled in the knockout round, eventually leading to former U.S. international Tab Ramos replacing Thomas Rongen as coach.

    For others, Costa Rica qualified for the U-20 World Cup for a third straight time, falling only to Mexico in the final. Panama, led by Cecelio Waterman's four goals, qualified for the U-20 World Cup for fourth time in five years, upending Honduras in the quarterfinals before being beaten by Mexico in the semifinals.

    Heading into 2012, each country is looking to its future. The United States is buoyed by its U-17 team's recent victory over Brazil; Guatemala is looking to build from its historic qualification; and Panama and Costa Rica are hoping to continue to their level of consistency.

    But it is Mexico that can be most pleased with a CONCACAF title and a World Cup medal from 2011.

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