The 2017 U-17 World Cup is set to start Friday in India and Mexico will try to get their third ever World Cup title. While Mexico is heavily favored to have a good start, warning signs might be on everybody mind's after their pre-world cup camp in Spain had negative results for the team, in what might just be taken as preparation but could also be seen as a bad omen for the competition.
On Sunday, in their last friendly before the U-17 World Cup, Mexico lost 3-0 to Iran, which meant that Mexico lost three out of the four games they played and their only positive result was a tie. Mexico will make their debut on Sunday against Iraq, in one of the World Cup’s toughest groups, where they will also play against England and Chile.
Mexico is a recent world powerhouse in the U-17 category. They won the U17 World Cup twice (2005,2011) and have gotten to the semifinals in the last three competitions. This U-17 team may have the highest expectations of all the teams. For the first time since Gio in 2005, they will go with a player with the expectations to be a world star. America's Diego Lainez became a sensation when he made America's first team as a 16 year old and showed potential that has everybody in Mexico talking. Besides Lainez, they also have Ian Jairo Torres and Roberto de la Rosa, two players that might not have the fame he has but have as much potential. The team won the CONCACAF U-17 tournament in spectacular fashion, dominating every match besides those played against another U-17 favorite, the United States.
Still, they were some warning signs. Although this team offensively was solid, their defense at times looked very much so as the Achilles heel. The United States was able to show those problems and it looks like these friendlies might have exposed them even more. They opened their Spanish camp with a 3-1 loss against Spain. They then faced South Korea's U1-8 for two games, getting a 3-3 tie in their first clash and then losing 2-1. Their final game was the 3-0 loss to Iran. This meant Mexico not only lost three out of their four games but got scored on 11 times during those friendlies. It seems the biggest warning sign is that Mexico's weakest point hasn't improved as they set to face their biggest challenge.
For Mexico, it's always been hard to get a reading about their friendly performances. In 1998, Mexico had a disastrous friendly campaign before having their best World Cup outside of Mexico ever at the time. Their best World Cup since 1998, (2014) also had Mexico coming in with two consecutive defeats to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Portugal. This also extends to youth teams. The 2012 Olympic team that won gold (Mexico's best achievement in any youth competition) lost their two friendlies prior to the competition against Spain and Japan (a Japanese team they would defeat in the semifinals) and only won a closed door game with Great Britain that was played in three time periods of 30 minutes. The 2011 U-17 WC winning team had a great run prior to the World Cup but lost a 6-3 friendly to a Uruguay team they would go on to defeat in the U17 World Cup final. So we might just have to continue this trend of friendlies that didn't match up to the end results. That said, it might point to a bigger problem, especially since Mexico's offense is lauded but their defense hasn't stepped up so far. Still, Mexico has the squad to do well in the World Cup and we will see if coach Mario Arteaga can improve on his fourth place accomplishment in 2015 with an even better team on paper.