Mexico will play against Iran in the Round of 16 of the U-17 World Cup on Tuesday. While Mexico was seen by many as a candidate to win it all, their tournament so far has been disastrous. They failed to win a game in group stages and qualified with only two points as the fourth best third-placed team. The result means they will face the team that has shined the most in Iran. Iran has won all three games so far, including a crushing 4-0 defeat of Germany. To make matters worse, Iran played the last friendly match before the U-17 World Cup against Mexico and defeated them 3-0. Mexico will need to turn things around completely and have the whole team shine instead of just their star player Diego Lainez to pull what would be the biggest upset of the tournament so far.
Mexico came to the World Cup as one of the most promising teams because of their offensive power and with a reputation as a U-17 powerhouse. Although the group was tough, people expected them to be in the competition for first place and they failed at it. A disappointing tie with Iraq turned out to be their best game of the group stage as they would fall against England 3-2 and get a lackluster tie against a Chile team that had lost both games by big scores (4-0/3-0).
Diego Lainez, who everybody thought was going to be the star of the team, has been the only player to meet expectations. Other players that were expected to also star in the competition like Roberto de la Rosa, Daniel Lopez and Jairo Torres have had disappointing tournaments and failed to show their supposed talent (especially in Torres’ case). To make matter worse, it seems the expectations have failed on every member of the team, as not only the defense (considered their weak point prior to the start of the tournament) has faltered but the team as a unit. Coach Mario Arteaga, who got the 2015 U-17 team to the semifinals, has done a poor job of building a cohesive team, which caught everybody by surprise since this team had a lot of success prior to the competition.
Arteaga has said that of all the Round of 16 teams, he wanted to play Iran, probably based on the fact they played before. But that result and the fact that the level of play has left a lot to be desired, means that his comments look more to be of the "putting a brave face" variety.
Mexico will have the toughest game in what so far has been a total failure of a campaign. Still the U-17 is famously inconsistent. Already the first Round of 16 games had shown that. Colombia, who had beaten the US 3-1 and looked to be rising in level, lost 4-0 to Germany. Meanwhile, the US was in a similar position to Mexico after qualifying as the third place team of their group, and facing what many people thought was the third best team of the competition so far after Iran and France, in Paraguay. Yet the South Americans were shocked that the US rose to their level and crushed them 5-0.
Mexico does have a good offensive team that can be ready to hopefully click with Lainez and company but so far it's has looked as if that level of play was either a mirage or hasn't been properly prepared by Arteaga. If they don't have a complete level of change and can get to the small window of play they had in the second half against England, Mexico will go back sooner than everybody was expecting.
Date: Tuesday, October 17
Time: 4:30 AM Pacific, 6:30 AM Central, 7:30 AM Eastern
Venue: Fatorda Stadium, Margao, India
Television: NBC Universo (US-Spanish), Fox Sports 2(US-English), TDN (Mexico), Azteca 7 (Mexico), Canal 5 Televisa (Mexico), BeIN Sports Arabia (Iran)
Listings via LiveSoccerTV.com.