MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica – Mexico outlasted Canada 4-2 on penalty kicks, following a hard-fought scoreless draw on Saturday at Catherine Hall Stadium, to capture its first CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Championship title.
The Tricolor opened the competition with a 1-1 draw against Haiti on October 30, but grew as a team throughout its stay in Jamaica. Head coach Leonardo Cuellar made key game-by-game tactical adjustments and played to the strengths of his versatile personnel.
Similar to her performance against the United States in Thursday’s semifinal penalty shootout, Mexico goalkeeper Emily Alvarado came up huge once again. She made two saves to seal an historic result.
Belen Cruz netted the Mexican’s fourth penalty in five attempts to launch a celebration of euphoric proportions.
In an intense encounter, the Canadians had the first chance. Bianca St. Georges nearly connected on Jessie Fleming’s left-sided corner kick to the far post, missing wide with a header.
Ten minutes later, Mexico’s Jaqueline Garcia fired off a right-footed attempt from 28-yards out that blazed over the crossbar.
In the 34th minute, Sarah Kinzer played Marie Levasseur into the left side of the Mexican box. The forward’s left-footed effort from six-yards was blocked by Alvarado. The ball, though, fell to Fleming, whose follow-up was blocked in front of the goal.
After the break, the North American rivals kept battling, neither conceding ground.
Substitute Sarah Stratigakis almost unlocked the Mexican defense in the 78th minute, providing a feed for Levasseur down the field’s spine. The 16-year-old cut to her left, uncorking a left-footer from the top of the 18-yard box that Alvarado got down to catch.
With two minutes left in regulation time, Garcia glanced off the crossbar a left-sided free kick from 25-yards out.
Stoppage time generated three more scoring opportunities, one for Canada and one for Canada, as both tried to avoid deciding the game on kicks from the spot.
In the first minute, the relentless Levasseur raced into the Mexican penalty area and snapped a shot that Alvarado popped high into the evening sky before bringing it down safely.
Cruz somehow found the strength to sprint 40-yards with the ball towards the Canadian net and eluded three defenders only to dash excruciatingly wide of the left post.
Eva Gonzalez gave it one last try in the dying seconds, sailing a speculative attempt from long distance over the Maple Leafs’ crossbar.
Rebeca Bernal, Gonzalez and Miriam Garcia went on to convert their penalties for the eventual champion, while Kinzer and Stratigakis struck for Canada.
Mexico and Canada will join host Costa Rica as CONCACAF representatives in the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, which starts in March.