It was a performance that almost seemed scripted. Trailing Germany late in Thursday evening's U-17 World Cup semifinal match, Mexico rallied for a 3-2 win behind two incredible goals. The sudden turn of events left the German team in shock and the Torreon crowd in a state of delirium. To top it off, the winning goal came from a bloodied and bandaged Julio Gomez, who returned to the field dramatically after suffering a nasty head injury. When the final whistle sounded, Mexico had earned an astonishing comeback victory, sending the host nation through to Sunday’s final against Uruguay at the Estadio Azteca.
Germany's potent attack got most of the headlines coming into the semifinal, but it was Mexico who ended up striking first. Less than three minutes into the match, left back Jorge Caballero sent a great ball into the box towards Julio Gomez. The header by Gomez bounced just inside the left post, with Germany's goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos caught completely flat-footed.
Mexico’s early lead wouldn’t last for long. In the 9th minute, defender Antonio Briseno lost a ball to Samed Yesil just outside the box. It was a rare error for Mexico's captain, and Yesil took advantage. The German striker sent a low shot past goalkeeper Richard Sanchez to even the scoreline at 1-1. It was Yesil’s sixth goal of the tournament, and suddenly Germany were right back in the match.
As the half wore on, Germany began to control more and more of the action. Yesil further exerted himself as a force on offense, narrowly missing on several scoring chances. His best chance came in the closing minutes of the half, as Sanchez charged out of the net to close down a long forward pass. With an open net behind Sanchez, Yesil chipped a shot towards goal, but the ball bounced harmlessly wide.
After the break, Germany finally seized control of the match. In the 60th minute, Germany's captain Emre Can made a strong run down the middle, found an opening, and finished past Sanchez for the 2-1 lead.
Looking to spark a comeback, Mexico brought on three subs over the next ten minutes. Germany adjusted to the changes, and continued to hold the lead.
The breakthrough for Mexico wouldn’t come until the 76th minute -- and in the unlikeliest fashion. A corner kick from Jorge Espericueta curved towards the goal, just past the outstretched head of Gomez, and bounced untouched off the back post and into the net. With his incredible "golazo olimpico," Espericueta, Mexico's master of long free kicks, had notched new marks for degree of difficulty.
Mexico got the equalizer on the play, but Gomez was also left bloody. After a nasty head collision with a German defender, Gomez was removed from the field on a stretcher, and prospects for his return looked dim. With no subs left, Mexico’s training staff worked fast on Gomez on the sideline, wrapping his head with white bandages. After finally getting approval from the referee, Gomez returned to the field in the 84th minute.
This is when things turned magical for the home side.
In the 90th minute, another corner from Espericueta helped produce the winning goal. This time Espericueta’s kick was headed upwards by Marcelo Gracia. As the ball fell back towards earth, Gomez -- with blood still on his shirt, and his head wrapped almost completely in bandages -- leapt into the air and sent a perfectly-timed bicycle kick over his shoulder towards the goal. As the ball crossed the goal line the stadium erupted. It was an astonishing finish, a remarkable comeback, and a match that will surely be remembered for many years to come. And there was no doubt who the hero of the day was: Julio Gomez.
Thanks to Gomez's magic, Mexico will now move on to Sunday’s final. In front of a massive crowd at Estadio Azteca, the El Tri youngsters will face Uruguay for the world title. Playing for the trophy in the Azteca is a moment that every player on the Mexico squad has dreamed about since the tournament began. The only question now is, does Mexico have any magic left?