Even before the tournament started, Mexico’s track record in the last three editions of the FIFA U17 World Cup, semi-finals being the bare minimum, only prompted experts to not shy away from placing a bet on them emerging out of their group with ease. Maybe, even usurping England as group winners.
Not all went according to plan though, and Guwahati was the stage where Mexico could not have afforded to lose to make it past the first stage as one of the superior third-placed teams, never mind the top two.
Chile, having themselves qualified for the U17 global event on merit after two decades, had a chance to cause the biggest upset of the tournament. The Hernan Caputto-coached side however, chose to play it safe, and for a team that had conceded seven goals and had just one shot on target in the last two games, the idea of coming off with at least a point was not so delirious on the forefront.
Packing their defense with five men, Chile never seemed to find solidity at the back as Mexico’s pace and quality upfront troubled the South Americans. Diego Lainez showed why he is Mexico’s next big hope as the Club America player displayed an admirable amount of quality from that one freekick in the first half, which was the closest thing to a goal in the entire game. It was, however, parried off by Chilean custodian Julio Borquez, who made a return after seeing a red in the first game and saved some grace.
Mexico, on the other hand, did no favours to themselves even when they had 69 percent of total ball possession. Wasteful from the word go, it was only a couple of kids in the gallery who were the stars of the night for the Aztecs with their vociferous "Go Mexico, you can win" chants, with the attacking combo of Roberto de la Rosa and Jairo Torres missing aplenty, one even with an empty net in front.
While Mexico were busy strumming up one attack after another, Chilean bodies seemed ruffled and their positioning on the field went astray as the players hardly were able to cut the attacks down from the wings. Defender Gaston Zuniga was the only member from 'La Rojita' who showed some leadership qualities and was constantly mouthing directions to his teammates as what was hardly a wall between the Mexico strikers and Chile — lucky not have conceded for no credit of their own.
In the end, the 15,794 present at the northeastern hub of the nation — a venue that is considered a high-scoring ground — witnessed the competition's first ever goalless draw after being treated to 29 goals in the previous five matches.
As Mario Arteaga, head coach of Mexico said after the game in earnest, “We saw a completely different game from Chile than what we would have generally expected from them as we have played against each other many times.” Yes, the reason as to why Caputto wanted his side not to be the enforcers in the game and not even try to launch some attacks is baffling as they had much less at stake, given a draw would also not help them advance. Instead, they were toyed around by a struggling Mexico side and appeared to be desperate for the referee to blow the full-time whistle.
A huddle beckoned after Chile ended their India sojourn as one of the teams not to score even once alongside DPR Korea. Debutants India and New Caledonia also got onto the scoresheet with Niger even qualifying for the knockouts. A week of disappointments rounded of Chilean football. The senior national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after a 3-0 loss to Brazil and the U17 side’s practical no-show at the tournament has amassed fears of Chile being a once a generation star-studded force in global football, just like Teofilo Cubillas’ Peru in the 1970s.
Mexico, who defied odds to qualify for the next stage without even a single win, will have it tough given they face Iran — a team that pummeled four goals past the junior side of current world champions Germany a week ago. 'El Tri Ninos' seem to be falling in stature and only a gross upheaval of tactics can hold them in good stead come the do-or-die fixtures.
Updated Date: Oct 15, 2017 17:44 PM