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2018 was a roller coaster year for Mexico’s youth teams

Mexico went through a lot of peaks and valleys in 2018 as they prepare for a more hectic 2019.

Mexico National Team Training Session and Press Conference Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

2018 was A year of ups and downs for Mexico’s youth teams. A great performance in the Toulon Tournament in early summer made Mexico excited for football prior to the World Cup. Then at the end of summer an incredible failure in the Central American and Caribbean games made Mexico reconsider what the word “fracaso” means when many were using it to describe a World Cup where Mexico made it to the second round over the defending champions Germany. Even in Mexico’s most important official tournament of the year, the “roller coaster” effect was present. In CONCACAF’s U-20 tournament, Mexico was able to get one of the four tickets to the World Cup to be held in 2019 but failed to impress against the better teams.

Besides the usual friendly games and tournaments, the first big tournament of the year was the Toulon Tournament played in late May and June. Mexico went with the U-23 team that is expected to play the Olympics qualifiers for the 2020 event. Under coach Marco Antonio Ruiz, Mexico went with a quality squad led by young Liga MX stars Diego Lainez, Jonathan Gonzalez, Cesar Montes and Roberto Alvarado. Alvarado had just signed with Cruz Azul after a great season in Necaxa, and he and the others would shine in France. Mexico started with a crushing victory over Qatar 4-1. They would continue with a 0-0 tie against England, where they were the better team. They would close with a 3-1 win over China and qualify to the Semifinals. With guys like Lainez and Alvarado clicking and Eduardo Aguirre scoring 4 goals in the First round, they looked like a candidate to win and would prove so in the Semifinals. They defeated Turkey 3-1 with an Aguirre hat-trick. In the final, they would once again face England, but they wouldn’t go into the match at full strength after Cesar Montes and Jonathan Gonzalez both had to be subbed out with injuries against Turkey. A lot of it could also be because Coach Ruiz hadn’t rotated much the team after four games in a short amount of time. In the final, Mexico took and early lead but a mistake by Atlas’ goalkeeper Jose Hernandez allowed England to tie. They would eventually take the lead and win by 2-1. Mexico finished with frustration but a great finish in the end. Eduardo Aguirre finished the top scorer of the tournament with seven goals and Diego Lainez won the golden ball and the appreciation of most.

A lot of the good spirit that Mexico gained after that performance was wasted in late July in Colombia. The 2018 Central American and Caribbean games were held in Barranquilla, Colombia and once again Mexico went with the U-23 team. This time they didn’t get as many top players as they did with Toulon, with lots of clubs not releasing them. Still, Lainez and Aguirre were there but the results weren’t good at all. They opened with a 2-1 loss to Venezuela in the toughest game of the group. Venezuela had players from the team that finished second in the U-20 World Cup, their biggest achievement ever in their youth football history. Yet their next game against El Salvador would not be against a team of that quality, but Mexico would once again lose, this time by 1-0. Goalkeeper Abraham Romero got red carded, which hampered the team as they went on to lose. Because of other results, Mexico had the opportunity to qualify to the Semifinals with a win against Haiti, but once again they failed with their objective. They took a lead early in the first half, only for them to finish with a 1-1 tie. The result meant Mexico was eliminated and last in the group. The elimination was severely criticized, especially when the Women’s National team would end up winning the Gold Medal.

Nothing encapsulated the year more than the most important official tournament of the year, the U-20 CONCACAF Tournament which is also the qualifying tournament for the World Cup. While Mexico was also able to get to the final and grab one of the tickets to the World Cup, in the end they only looked good in games against very modest opposition, the product of the new CONCACAF format in which all teams that entered played in the tournament without the need to qualify. This meant Mexico was in a group with Nicaragua, Grenada, Saint Martin, Jamaica and Aruba. Besides Jamaica, Mexico would face a bunch of “minnow” countries and they would crush those. Led by Lainez and Cruz Azul’s Misael Dominguez, Mexico won those 4 games by a combined 29-0. Forward Jose Juan Macias of Chivas would score 10 goals in route to the Golden Boot. But against Jamaica, the only strong opposition, they would only earn a 2-2 draw and didn’t look particularly good. The draw, right in the middle of the group stage, meant that Mexico needed to score goal, as goal differential was the key to who would win the group and get the ticket to the second, something El Tri accomplished. In the Second round, Mexico would face tougher team, but because of other results, it meant that a win in their first game against El Salvador would give them the ticket the 2018 World Cup in Poland. They beat El Salvador 1-0 and would then play Panama for the ticket to the CONCACAF tournament final. El Tri finished leveled at two goals and only went through because of the Fair Play rule and having one less yellow card. Mexico wouldn't look good at all in the game, getting totally outplayed in the first half and only taking advantage of mistakes by Panama to earn the draw. Finally, they would play the United States in the final and lose 2-0, getting outplayed again. That meant Mexico got their ticket, but coach Diego Ramirez’s team only looked good against inferior competition. Against better teams, Mexico never looked great, and at times they genuinely looked terrible. A lot of doubts were raised ahed of the 2019 U-20 World Cup.

In the U-17 category, Mexico had mostly a quiet year with Marco Antonio Ruiz leading the team. The best was Mexico winning the Torneo de Naciones at home by getting victories over Chile, United States and Argentina. However, the year ended with failure in December after a last place finish in the Copa UC Sub 17 in Chile, albeit with a lesser squad. 2019 will have the World Cup qualifiers and hopefully the World Cup in the end.

The main news of the year also took place in December, with the FMF announcing that Jaime Lozano will be the Coach for the U-23 team that will go try to qualify to the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. Lozano will take the spot over Coach Ruiz, who remains as coach of the U-17s. Lozano had a successful spell in the youth teams in Queretaro that led him to coach the main team, besides having a very successful player career in teams like Pumas and Morelia. It remains to be seen, but it’s a positive sign that Mexico might once again be turning their eyes to the youth teams, so as avoid having another turbulent year like it was in 2018.