Raúl “Potro” Gutiérrez sent out the same starting lineup that defeated Brazil and Italy the week before. Mexico’s U-17 team has won 2 of the last 4 World Cups, 2011 in Mexico and 2005 in Peru, and is riding high after its emotional rollercoaster of an tournament.
Mexico was routed by Nigeria on the first matchday and has since found a way to win against Iraq, Sweden, Italy, and Brazil before its game with Argentina on Tuesday morning. Each victory has come in different circumstances and against very different opposition but each has given the squad more confidence.
Though many had written off Mexico’s chances after the embarrassing 6-1 result to Nigeria, El Mini Tri came into its match against Argentina with a quiet assured sensibility that paid off quickly.
First half highlights, off to the races:
The match had a rapid tempo and biting challenges from the very first minute.
Argentina won a free kick down its right wing that is played short before target forward Sebastián Driussi is played into the penalty area. Salomón Wbias came in with a clumsy challenge Driussi who saw the contact coming and knocked the ball ahead of him to take the hit from Mexico’s central defender.
Just four days after saving two shots in an extended shootout against Brazil, Raúl Gudiño showed he was still on top of his game. The Chivas de Guadalajara goalkeeper dove to his left and saved Driussi’s well-struck penalty in the 4th minute.
Iván Ochoa was active the whole game and raced down the right wing and earns a corner kick with his cross. Ulises Rivas and Luis Hernández stood behind the ball before Rivas hit a low and tight angled corner. An Argentine defender blocked the initial attempt and Rivas sent in a higher cross the second time of asking. That cross was half cleared by the defense to Wbias at the top of the area who headed towards the empty space near the far post. Iván Ochoa took one touch to control the ball in the air and smashed his shot into the roof of the net with his second before the ball dropped.
By the fifth minute, Mexico had saved a penalty and scored a set piece goal against Argentina. Argentina wanted an offside flag on the play but Ochoa’s movement was timed perfectly with the line of Argentine defenders to notch his third goal in three matches.
Mexico scored a disallowed goal in the 17th minute as Ochoa was called for a foul while he rounded the corner. Ochoa played a cross that was powerfully headed into the goal by Alejandro Díaz but referee Gianluca Rocchi had already blew his whistle. From the ensuing free kick, Argentina drove down the field and Marcos Astina hit a shot that stung Gudiño’s hands.
Lucio Compagnucci was called for elbowing Ulises Jaimes in the jaw, which resulted in a yellow card for the midfielder and a free kick for Mexico. Again Hernández and Rivas stood over the set piece and again Rivas sent the ball into the area. Jaimes jumped at the near post to flick the free kick on towards the far post. Ochoa was complete unmarked, ghosting in from the right side and slid to tap in from close range.
Ochoa notched his second goal of the game in the 21st minute and completely changed the complexion of the match.
Argentina’s frustration bubbles to the surface as as Iván Leszczuk came in late on Ochoa to earn himself a booking in the 28th minute. The inexperience of Argentina’s players in dealing with adversity peaked just a few minutes later.
Joaquín Ibáñez received his marching orders for a very bad challenge on Omar Govea. Ibáñez stamped on Govea’s right leg with both feet and referee Rocchi immediately sent off the Argentine forward. The medical team rushed onto the field to make sure Govea had not suffered any broken bones. The Club America midfielder was able to continue for the full 90 minutes but will definitely feel the results of that challenge tomorrow.
After the red card, cameras showed Ochoa reminding his teammates to keep their heads and play the game according to Gutiérrez’s instructions. For his part, Gudiño was again characteristically strong and confident by actively claiming the ball out of the air.
Even after conceding two goals and losing a man, Argentina was not out of the game in terms of the run of play. Argentina’s players exchanged quick passes in tight space but not close enough to Mexico’s goal. Argentine continued to play quality football but did not play with composure in the final third and couldn’t test Gudiño enough.
Mexico’s style late in the second half was somewhat reminiscent of a strong Barcelona side, taunting Argentina by maintaining midfield possession. Mexico forced Argentina to chase the ball and tire themselves out before the halftime whistle.
Second half, Mexico weathers the storm:
Early in the second half, Argentina showed renewed life as Leszczuk played Driussi through on goal. Gudiño rushed off his line to push Driussi wide and the forward cut a pass back to Leszczuk who hit his shot into the outside netting at the near post.
Christian Tovar subbed on for Luis Hernández and was active almost immediately down the left side. Ulises Rivas got a break as Erich Hernández entered the game in his place just before Ulises Jaimes made way for Marco Granados. All three substitutions by Raúl Gutiérrez were like-for-like switches and maintained Mexico’s formation and tactical set-up.
Argentina conjured up a number of chances in the second half but despite attacking intent, none of Argentina’s shots troubled Gudiño much. In the last 20 minutes of the game, Mexico was very good at patiently recycling possession to the outside if the chance wasn’t viable through the middle.
Pedro Terán received a booking while jockeying for position ahead of an Argentina corner kick late in the game. That corner was flicked on by the near post and bounced around in the area before it was stabbed goalwards by an Argentina player. Gudiño made the point blank save, deflected the first rebound that was cleared off the line by a defender, and then easily caught the second rebound that came in the form of an overhead kick.
Immediately down on the other end, after a free kick in Mexico’s own half, Govea takes the ball forward down the right flank. As he cuts inside, Marco Granados splits the two central defenders and runs from his central position diagonally towards the near post. Govea slips the ball beautifully to Granados who beats the keeper to the near side with his first touch.
Marco Granados put further emphasize on Mexico’s already impressive victory; 3-0 over Argentina.
Though Argentina had earlier escaped a second dismissal when Compagnucci hit Gudiño in the back with his studs, they wouldn’t be so lucky in stoppage time. In the second of three added minutes, Tovar raced forward from the left side. As Tovar was bearing down on goal at a full sprint, Augusto Batalla raced off his line and slid towards the winger. Tovar neatly knocked the ball past Batalla, intending to run around the other side and catch the ball; Batalla made sure Tovar didn’t. The Argentine keeper reached his arm up after missing the ball to catch Tovar outside the area.
Gianluca Rocchi didn’t hesitate to show Argentina’s second red card to Augusto Batalla and defender Germán Ferreyra stepped up to take over goalkeeping duties for the remainder of the game. After putting on the shirt and gloves, Ferreyra made one save as the makeshift keeper before Rocchi blew for full time.
Wbias and Pedro Terán have a really strong understanding of each other in central defense. Both of them are tremendous at winning balls in the air and have the pace to recover and communication with fullbacks and central midfielders.
Argentina certainly has very talented players on the team but Mexico plays as a cohesive unit. Mexico is patient and composed with its two-goal lead and the players look quite intelligent on the field because they always seem to know where teammates on.
The match was full of entertaining soccer from both teams and a number of rare events. There was a saved penalty in the first few minutes, two red cards, and two set piece goals. Mexico had 65% of possession but was resolutely outshot by Argentina.
At the end of the game, it was team-play that helped Mexico breeze past Argentina 3-0. They will now have a great deal of confidence going into the finals; a rematch of the first group stage game against Nigeria. Mexico will feel they have grown as a team and contest a much closer affair the second time around.
Post-match interviews, looking ahead to the final:
After the game, Raúl Gutiérrez told ESPN that the whole team is very happy with the result today. A lot of people had given up on Mexico’s chances after the first match and many thought that they wouldn’t have been able to get the result they did against Argentina.
The boys put forth a tremendous effort and everyone is very happy to have reached the championship match as that was always the goal going into this tournament.
Gutiérrez did say that sometimes situations happen when players lose control of themselves in the moment when they are just 17 years old, as happened with Ibáñez. But the coach asserted that Mexico would have been able to win even if Argentina had not been reduced to 10 men in the first half.
The coach ended his post-game interview by saying that the team can always improve and that there are thing they can still correct for the final. Gutiérrez said that the whole team is prepared and ready to fight in the final.
Mexico’s leading scorer in the World Cup with 4 goals, Iván Ochoa also talked to ESPN after the game. He said that the play throughout the whole game was tight but that Mexico did well to came out on top. When asked if getting to the final was a dream come true Ochoa said that he is very excited by the dream will come true after Mexico wins one more game.
Mexico will face Nigeria in the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup Final on Friday, November 8.