Mexico Falls to Nigeria 3-0 in the U-17 World Cup Final

In a rematch of its opening game of the 2013 U-17 World Cup Group Stage, Mexico again lost to Nigeria. In a much tighter affair than the 6-1 result on October 19, Mexico was still humbled by Nigeria the second time of asking.

Though Mexico coach Raúl “Potro” Gutiérrez is a great coach he didn’t have an answer for Nigeria one the first match-day and still didn’t have one in the final. El Potro played his team in a 4-4-2 formation the whole tournament and found great success with his setup against most teams. The two-way play of Ulises Rivas in the center of the field and Iván Ochoa down the right side was particularly effective as both made key contributions defensively and prominently stepped into attack at times.

Nigeria’s playing style in the 4-3-3 under coach Manu Garba was particularly adept at breaking down Mexico’s lineup. The three attacking players were individually talented enough to keep Mexico’s back four tied up which meant that at least one midfielder had to recover for every additional player Nigeria sent forward. Centerbacks Aliyu Abubakar and Zaharaddeen Bello were easily able to deal with Ulises Jaimes while Alejandro Díaz was forced to pressure Nigeria’s midfielders to win the ball back. This freed fullbacks Musa Mohammed and Samuel Okon to attack down the wings, pushing Mexico’s wide players Ochoa and Luis Hernández back into defense.

Mexico is a dangerous team on the counter-attack but Nigeria effectively rendered El Tri’s quick attack useless. Because Nigeria has a full team of physically gifted players, anyone could spark an attack and give Mexico’s defense problems. That’s exactly what happened in the 9th minute of the game.

First half highlights:
Mexico dominated possession in the early minutes of the game and developed a sustained attack. Down the left flank, Rodríguez took a long throw in that was inadvertently flicked on to the far post by a Nigerian defender. Ochoa connected with a powerful header on frame at the far post that goalkeeper Dele Alampasu did well to tip over the bar. Alampasu then collected the ensuing corner kick out of the air and set Nigeria off on a quick counterattack.

Awoniyi drove down the center and forced a three-on-one with Erick Aguirre the only defender back for Mexico. Musa Yahaya came running down Nigeria’s left side and Awoniyi’s pass to him was timed perfectly with him advancing past Aguirre. As Yahaya bore on goal, he attempted to play a pass across the face of goal as Aguirre recovered defensively. The ball unfortunately knocked off the young fullback and beat Raúl Gudiño at his near post.

The quick counterattack goal undid Mexico’s good work in the first eight minutes of the game. Mexico’s fullbacks rarely pushed forward for the rest of the first half, opting instead to maintain discipline in their shape and ward off the threat from Nigeria’s speed on the break. When Nigeria won the ball back from Mexico’s players, the team only took one or two touches before playing it up for one of the forwards.

Mexico had a number of corner kicks, crosses, and deep free kicks in the first half. Attacking players got on the end of a few of balls into the area but many more of them were poorly played in.

Second half highlights:
Tempers were clearly high as Mexican players argued while walking into the locker room for halftime. In the second half. As Mexico was beginning to grow with patient attacks to start the second half, Nigeria struck again. Right back Musa Mohammed pushed up the field and unleashed a cannon of a shot on goal. Gudiño did really well to save the shot but Kelechi Iheanacho was on hand to tap in the rebound while the keeper was still in the air. No one from Mexico tracked Iheanacho’s run as both centerbacks Pedro Terán and Salomón Wbias were caught ball-watching.

Iheanacho put four goals past Mexico on October 19 and his simple finish gave Nigeria a 2-0 lead in the final. Gutiérrez subbed Marco Granados in for Jaimes after switching out Hernández for Christian Tovar at halftime. But with the changes, Gutiérrez kept Mexico’s 4-4-2 shape. Later Mexico’s third substitution brought Erich Hernández on in place of Omar Govea to give Mexico more options carrying the ball forward. Fullbacks made more frequent runs up the outside but poor crosses failed to generate scoring opportunities.

Even when Aguirre sent in a beautiful cross, Ochoa knocked his free header wide from around the penalty spot. Díaz, usually full of life in the area, was essentially marked out of the game on corners and crosses by Nigeria’s central defenders. All hope of a comeback was squashed when Terán gave away a free kick just outside Mexico’s 18-yard box.

A left footed player for Nigeria stepped up to strike a ball around the wall that Gudiño had set up, which caused the goalkeeper to lean to his right side, but stopped his run shot. Mohammed curled a perfectly placed shot to the far upper corner of the net, just out of reach of a diving Gudiño. Nigeria’s captain put the icing on the cake for the Golden Eaglets with a spectacular free kick goal in the 81st minute.

Though they were down 3-0 and facing certain defeat, Mexico pressed on to try to find a consolation goal. Mexico’s efforts were to no avail as the referee blew the full-time whistle and Nigeria won its record-breaking fourth U-17 World Cup title.

Immediate post-game reactions:
Mexico failed in its quest to win back-to-back titles at the U-17 level but the country should still be proud of its youngsters. Recovering from the opening day defeat to beat Italy, Brazil, and Argentina en route to the finals is a tremendous achievement in its own right. Several of these players showed the resilience, individual talent, and professionalism to stick around the youth national team pools for a while to come.

Though few of the players from this U-17 team will get a chance to play in Europe, because of how fiercely guarded they are by their clubs in Mexico, they have continued the relative success of the country’s youth development. Nigeria certainly executed its gameplan well, but Mexico could have dealt with mostly any of squad playing any other tactical formation than Nigeria’s.

Congratulations to Nigeria and well done to Mexico as well for playing some entertaining football and taking home the silver medal.

In his postgame talk, head coach Raúl “Potro” Gutiérrez said Nigeria capitalized on their chances in the key moments of the match and that Mexico could not reverse the tide after the first goal. He mentioned that the players have to understand how to grow from tournaments like this one and how everyone gains crucial experience, even from a deflating loss. In the end, though, Mexico struggled to deal with Nigeria and gave in on the field.

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