Mexico defeated South Korea by a score of 1-0 and qualified to their fifth U-17 World Cup semifinal ever. Coach Marco Antonio “Chima” Ruiz had said his goal was to have Mexico finish in the top four, and although most people doubted him, they have accomplished their goal of making their fourth semifinal in the last five U-17 World Cups.
Mexico will now face the Netherlands in a game of teams that qualified as best third-placed teams, although the Netherlands have improved more than any other team in the knockout stages and just crushed Paraguay 4-1.
Mexico had their first chance when Santiago Muñoz got a ball similar to the one he got against Japan and got off a shot that just went wide.
After a lot of pressure from Mexico, South Korea got a counter and Choi Min-seo got off a great shot that hit the post. As time went by, South Korea got more possession and Choi got a great chance alone in the area, but he shanked the one time shot and it went wide. South Korea pressure kept Mexico at bay and they started coughing balls and clearing desperate plays as Korea dictated the pace of the game.
South Korea had to make a sub after their defender Hong Sung-wook injured himself and Bang Woon-jin got subbed on to make his debut in the U-17 World Cup.
South Korea had control of the game, but Mexico got a free kick against the run of play. Jesus Gomez got a great left-footed shot that hit the post for Mexico’s best chance to score in the first half. The halftime blew with Mexico holding on but South Korea looking like the better team in the first half.
The second half started with Mexico hoping to revert the situation from the end of the first. Mexico got a corner kick early on. and after a clearance, the ball fell back to Efrain Alvarez, whose cross almost went in off the South Korean defense.
The game turned very even. Once again ,Choi got the ball outside the area but his shot went far wide. Later it was El-Mesmari who got the ball near the area but his shot was blocked.
Mexico then made their first move when they subbed out El-Mesmari for Ali Avila. Mexico could have had a good chance but Eugenio Pizzuto decided with a long range shot that went wide instead of finding a wide open Efrain Alvarez in the wing.
Mexico decided to sub on Israel Luna, taking out Alvarez. Minutes in, Luna got a free header but sent it wide. Then there was a confusion in what looked to be an corner kick, but was given a throw in. Off the throw in, Mexico got a good cross into the area and Avila rose to head it in and score the 1-0.
Eduardo Garcia saved a great header after a terrible mistake from Jose Ruiz, who let a ball bounce over him in the area, and allowed Jung Sang-bin to head the ball. The game continued with South Korea attacking, although Mexico had a great chance when Bryan Gonzalez had a shot in the area but it went wide.
At the end, Mexico completed a great defensive display, held on to beat South Korea, and win the game.
Mexico made a statement on Sunday night and once again can be called a powerhouse in this category, the only one they can make a claim of in international soccer. Although the team hasn’t been as talented as other sides in this competition, they have worked hard and are deserved semifinalists. The biggest jump may be with coach Marco Antonio Ruiz, who has placed his credibility along the elite youth coaches after a lot of doubts from the fans and a QF finish in the 2017 U-20 World Cup where they failed to impress. This is by far his best job in any tournament and should raise his profile.
Also raising their profile are several players in the team, most notably Jesus Gomez in defense and Eugenio Pizzuto, Santiago Muñoz and Efrain Alvarez at the attack. Mexico will now face and extremely tough candidate where they will be an underdog in every way. The Netherlands were one of the big candidates to win the competition but they had two bad losses against Japan and Senegal. They raised their level crushing the United States and since have been an incredible force, knocking out both Nigeria and Paraguay. They might be looking for a rematch from the last time they faced Mexico in a U-17 WC semifinal, a 4-0 win for Mexico in the 2005 U-17 World Cup in route for Mexico’s first title (in fact Mexico has beaten the Netherlands in both of their U-17 WC titles as they also beat the Netherlands in the Group stages of the 2011 edition), but anything gained after this QF game, is a plus for a Mexican team that has already made history and accomplished their big goal.