Mexico striker Carlos Fierro knows where he wants to be on Sunday evening:
"I dream of playing at 6pm on Sunday in the Estadio Azteca."
Since the FIFA Under-17 World Cup began, Fierro and the rest of his teammates have dreamed of playing for the world title in front of a packed house at the famed Azteca. Now just a short step away from their goal, one last difficult obstacle stands in the way. On Thursday night in Torreon, the El Tri youngsters must get past an imposing Germany side in order to book a ticket to Sunday's championship final.
In many ways the semifinal matchup between the two sides almost feels like a final, with both teams bringing impressive tournament resumes to the table. Germany and Mexico were the only two teams in the competition to win all three of their games in group play, and each side brings an identical 5-0 tournament record into the semifinal.
Germany, though, have earned their undefeated record in slightly more spectacular fashion. With 18 goals scored in five games, Germany are by far the highest scoring team in the competition. Despite these big numbers and their consistently dominating play, Germany's coach Steffen Freund has tried to deflect the pressure back onto the host nation ahead of the semifinal. Freund stated this week that "we do not consider ourselves favorites," and went on to comment that in his mind the favorites to win are Mexico and Brazil.
For his part, Mexico manager Raul Gutierrez has done well guiding his team throughout the entire tournament. Gutierrez has minimized the natural pressures felt by the host nation, and has kept his squad calm and focused on each game at hand. Now facing an intimidating Germany attack, he has his team exhibiting absolutely no signs of fear.
Carlos Fierro certainly has no plans to back down. Mexico’s starting striker and leading scorer said this week that he plans to attack Germany, in order "to see how they respond." Fierro, a Chivas product, has already been dubbed the "next-Chicharito" (or the "next-next Chicharito" behind Cubo Torres), and it will be his job to put the pressure on Germany’s backline. The Germans have only conceded three goals in five matches, but they have yet to face an attack as dynamic as Mexico’s.
The Mexico offense is led up front by Fierro and Marco Bueno, with support from lanky midfielder Jorge Espericueta. Espericueta has a lethal long-range shot, and is a dangerous weapon that Mexico can deploy on free kicks anywhere in the vicinity of the penalty box. Another Chivas product, speedy winger Giovani Casillas, is also a key component of the attack. Casillas was in the starting lineup for the quarterfinal match against France, but may actually be most effective as an energy spark off the bench.
Clearly Mexico have the talent to score against anybody. The bigger issue on Thursday will be the play of Mexico’s backline against the potent German attack. One bonus for El Tri will be the return of central defender Carlos Guzman, who missed the match against France due to yellow card accumulation. Guzman will start alongside team captain Antonio Briseno, and both defenders will have some serious work ahead of them.
Their number one priority will be containing striker Samed Yesil. Germany's featured striker has scored five goals in the tournament, including two against England in the quarterfinal win. Also worthy of attention will be German defender Mitchell Weiser, who plays at right back but is also the team's second leading scorer. Weiser is key to Germany’s attack down the right side, meaning Jorge Caballero and the left side of the Mexico defense will have to provide serious help closing down his forward runs.
Can the Mexico defense hold their ground and limit Germany's scoring opportunities? It won’t be easy, but Mexico can take some solace in the fact that they have already dispatched two very talented European sides – beating the Netherlands 3-2 in group play, and France 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
The biggest intangible for Thursday evening’s semifinal may actually be the atmosphere. It will be a packed, partisan crowd at Estadio Corona, home of Santos Laguna. On a steamy night (temperatures should still be in the 90s at kickoff), things will only get hotter for Germany if Mexico can build off the boisterous fan support.
Both teams are obviously young, and you never know how certain players will respond under adverse conditions. That said, Mexico is by now used to playing in packed stadiums during this tournament, while for Germany this will be a new experience.
Whoever emerges victorious will face the winner of the Brazil vs. Uruguay match, which kicks off earlier on Thursday at Estadio Omnilife in Guadalajara. Mexico's young national squad certainly knows where they want to be on Sunday evening for the final. It’s now up to them to turn those dreams into a reality.
Watch Mexico vs. Germany at 7pm eastern (6pm local time) Thursday July 7th on ESPNU or Galavision, as well as ESPN3 online.