Mexico U-17 Edged Past Sweden after Controlling Possession

After a thorough 3-1 victory over Iraq, Mexico had partially exorcised its 6-1 defeat at the hands of Nigeria. A draw against Sweden would give Mexico 4 points and a path to the knockout round via the best ranked third-placed teams. Sweden had amassed 4 points by beating Iraq and drawing against Nigeria, so the Scandinavians were already qualified for the next stage. If Mexico lost to Sweden, its World Cup campaign would end in the group stage.

Raúl “Potro” Gutiérrez again lined his team up in a 4-4-2 and made two changes from the squad that defeated Iraq. Because he correctly predicted Sweden would put up a solid defensive effort, Gutiérrez replaced right back Francisco Calderón with the more mobile Erick Aguirre and opted for Omar Govea in central midfield over the defensive-minded José Almanza.

During the first 25 minutes, despite having 76% of possession, El Tri created few quality chances. Mexico still played a majority of its corner kicks short and to little success. A few minutes later, Ulises Rivas hit an in-swinging corner from the left side which was cleared by Sweden out to Govea, whose shot from outside the area didn’t trouble Sixten Mohlin in goal.

The best chance of the first half belonged to Victor Zúñiga of Mexico. The Cruz Azul academy product was played through the Swedish defense and set off on a 30 yard break away. As he approached the goal, Mohlin came off his line and the defenders recovered to pressure Zúñiga. In the end, Zúñiga only dispatched a half-hearted shot that he didn’t strike cleanly that was easily smothered by the Swedish goalkeeper.

Ulises Jaimes came on after halftime to replace Zúñiga up top. Mexico continued possessing without showing much attacking intent to start the second half.

Iván Ochoa did well to drive down the right side but couldn’t pick out any of his teammates in the area as Sweden packed the field defensively.

Mexico continued to play through the right side as Govea found Ochoa deep, who dropped the ball back to right back Erick Aguirre. Aguirre cut inside with the ball at his foot but his central pass, intending to be a give-and-go, was broken up by Sweden.

Minutes later, a similar play worked for Ochoa. Starting from the right side, Ochoa cut across the top of the 18 and played a wall pass with forward Alejandro Díaz twice. As Ochoa closed in on goal, Sweden’s substitute right back Johan Ramhorn slid in with a brilliantly timed challenge to dispossess Mexico’s winger.

As the second half wore on, Mexico began probing and changing the point of attack. Díaz showed his strength and quickness by brushing aside Sweden’s midfielders during a burst through the middle of the park. Aguirre cut inside and hit a clever through ball for Jaimes that curled away from goal, but the chance was cleared by Sweden.

Díaz had a decent chance after a cross from Mexico’s left side was broken up by Sweden’s defense. The cross bounced off Sebastian Ramhorn and fell to Díaz who nailed a shot from just inside the top of the area. Díaz’s shot deflected off a defender but still forced Mohlin into a diving save to his right.

Mexico picked up its intensity as a corner kick from the left side resulted in several missed chances in the area. The ball bounced around in the 18 yard box and fell near Alejandro Díaz, who turned to shoot into a Swedish defender. Govea picked up the ball but his shot slammed into the chest of another brave Swedish defender. Central defender Pedro Terán  then picked up the ball but he was pushed off balance as he was winding up an attempt.

Marco Granados of Chivas de Guadalajara replaced Club América’s Alejandro Díaz in the 74th minute. Left back Osvaldo Rodríguez again showed his ability by executing a fantastic recovering sliding tackle on Carlos Strandberg after the Swedish attack broke through down the opposite flank past three other Mexican defenders. Unfortunately for the Pachuca fullback, he appeared to injure himself on the play and was subbed out for Christian Tovar in the 78th minute. Tovar had started Mexico’s first match as the left midfielder but filled in very capably for Rodríguez, especially on the attack.

As the game appeared to open up, the midfield became somewhat of a battleground. There was at least one foul every minute for a while and Sweden’s players looked to be tiring. Erdal Rakip went in the book for a late challenge on Rivas after he passed the ball but the referee played advantage until Gentrit Citaku fouled Luis Hernández as he received the pass from Rivas.

Aguirre sent in a cross from the right side that Marco Granados did well to get on the end of. Granados ghosted in between Sweden’s two centerbacks but he couldn’t direct his free header on frame. Service came from the other side as Tovar advanced down the left channel shortly after. Tovar played a low pass into the feet of Granados as the forward made a diagonal run across the face of goal. Granados tried a clever back heel flick at the near post, which was blocked by the marking defender, before carrying the ball over the endline.

By the 80th minute, Mexico stop trying to break quickly on the counterattack and instead built up a patient attack.

Ulises Jaimes was played through into the area to the left of Sweden’s goal but took far too long to pick his pass and the defense recovered to knock the ball out for a corner. Ulises Rivas took an in-swinging corner from the left side that Ulises Jaimes tucked away in front of the near post. Jaimes easily evades his mark on the play, Elias Andersson, to open up a pocket of space near the near post and hit his header over the right shoulder of goalkeeper Mohlin. Ochoa did well to draw his defender away from the near post, which cleared the path for Jaimes to run into and score.

Sweden pushed numbers forward in hopes of equalizing late in the game after Mexico’s 86th minute goal. Sweden’s best chance, however, was a free kick that Gudiño rose to punch away in the last active play of the game.

Mexico ended the game with 66% of the possession, having created 11 shots on goal from 16 total shots and six corner kicks. Sweden, in contrast, only had two corners and three total shots, of which two were on target. El Tri was the only team that needed a result in the match in which it dominated statistically.

With the win, Mexico finished as the second placed team in Group F and had a matchup with Italy, the second placed team from Group B, to look forward to. Sweden’s four points earned it a spot in the tournament’s Round of 16.

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