• Tuesday Dec 20, 2011

    Mexico U-17s conquer world again

    By Gerardo Martínez Gómez

    In Mexico, golden generations are more frequent than elsewhere.

    For the second time in six years, Mexico has won the U-17 world championship, possibly giving its senior team greater depth in vitality and talent in the coming years.

    In 2005, in Peru, its "golden generation" included Hector Moreno, Efrain Juarez, Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela. This past year, coach Raul Gutierrez has added new names to watch in the future such as Carlos Fierro, Giovani Casillas, Julio Gomez and Jorge Espericueta.

    As host of the 2011 U-17 World Cup, Mexico was spared from the usual requisite of qualifying, clearing the way for the United States to win its second CONCACAF U-17 Championship - and first since 1992.

    Mexico therefore began its path to the world title against North Korea, struggling for long stretches before finally prevailing with a 3-1 victory. It was the Koreans southern brethren who eliminated Mexico on penalties from the second round of the 2009 World Cup.

    Three days later, El Tri capitalized after Congo had two players ejected and then finally won on an 85th-minute goal by Gomez to assure itself of advancing.

    Mexico's toughest match of the first round came next in Monterrey against the European champion and tournament favorite Netherlands, jumping ahead on first-half goals by Casillas and Fierro, but needing a finale from Aruturo Gonzalez in the fourth minute of injury time to win 3-2.

    With three wins, including the dramatic triumph over the Dutch, local expectations of recreating 2005 grew.

    Mexico had little difficulty with CONCACAF rival Panama - which reached the second round despite losing two of three games, winning 2-0 after an early strike by Fierro and a late tally by Bueno.

    Two more European rivals stood between Mexico and the final. But it dispatched France relatively easily 2-1 on goals from Kevin Escamilla and, once again, Fierro.

    Against Germany in the semifinals, it went ahead on Julio Gomez's third-minute goal and then fell behind by the 60th.

    Espericueta equalized in the 76th minute before Gomez, head bandaged from a collision during the scoring play, converted with a bicycle kick for one of Mexico's most memorable goals and turning the 17-year-old Pachuca defender into a national hero.

    With momentum and the help of a crowd of 110,000 in Estadio Azteca, Mexico seized the trophy with goals by Antonio Briseno and Casillas for a 2-0 victory over Uruguay.

    Rest of the region

    Mexico was just one of five CONCACAF sides in the Under-17 World Cup, but it was the only one to advance past the second round.

    The United States had the best showing of all, beating the Czech Republic 3-0, before losing to Uzbekistan 2-1 and drawing 0-0 with New Zealand. The Americans were sent home rather unceremoniously, routed by Germany 4-0.

    It was not before the United States provided drama at the CONCACAF championship, winning both of its group matches, before outlasting El Salvador 3-2 in extra time, eliminating Jamaica in the semifinals and then needing extra time again to subdue Canada 3-0 in the final.

    Canada's runner-up performance was its best finish in the CONCACAF championship, marking its fifth trip to the World Cup and first since 1994. But it started with a loss to eventual runner-up Uruguay 3-0 before drawing with England 2-2 and Rwanda 0-0 for a first-round exit.

    Canada also provided some excitement of its own when goalkeeper Quillan Roberts scored from his own half to give his country the draw with England. Roberts dribbled out of his penalty area before launching a drive that bounced once over the head of his opposite number Jordan Pickford in the 87th minute.

    Panama reached its first U-17 World Cup by upsetting Costa Rica in CONCACAF championship quarterfinals, and began its time in Mexico with a 1-0 win over Burkina Faso. By playing defensively and losing only 2-1 to Ecuador and 2-0 to Germany, it finished with a minus-2 goal difference, good enough for one of four berths in the second round as a third-place group finisher.

    Its good fortune ran out, however, in the knockout round, having to face host Mexico in Pachuca.

    Assisted by hosting the CONCACAF championship, Jamaica reached its first U-17 World Cup since 1999. But it had the misfortune of being drawn in the World Cup with Argentina, France and Japan, against whom it scored only twice, drew once and was eliminated.

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