Mexico had a season full of highs and lows in their 2019 youth action. The year will be remembered by the historic second run in the 2019 U17 World Cup. After a slow start, Mexico fought all the way to get to their fourth final in a U17 World Cup and came close to winning it before falling against the hosts Brazil. The great result in the U17 World Cup saved the year and upstaged the failures from the U20 and U15 categories in a year that was filled with ups and downs.
Mexico’s hectic year officially got going with Mexico playing the U17 CONCACAF Tournament in Bradenton, Florida. After a tough U20 CONCACAF Championship in 2018 for Mexico in which they placed second but failed to impress, Mexico tried to improve and did so as they were undefeated. They got a solid first round performance in the group stages before almost being shocked by Puerto Rico in the Round of 16, only squeaking out a 2-1 victory. They then went back to crush El Salvador in the Quarterfinals and book their ticket to the World Cup. Next, they went past a tough Haiti side 1-0 and won the tournament with a 2-1 win against the United States. While that final game was a victory, it was a really tough game with Mexico getting completely outplayed in the first half but improving as time went on. In the end they got the 2-1 win in extra time for the title, although it hadn’t been easy.
Mexico then prepared itself for the 2019 U20 World Cup. This team had failed to impress in the qualifiers in 2018, and things weren’t looking better when they went on a friendly tour before the tournament and had bad losses against Colombia and New Zealand. With young star Jose Juan Macias missing the Liga MX final to go to the tournament and Diego Lainez joining the team from La Liga’s Real Betis, things were expected to change but in the end it didn’t help. Mexico had one of the worst performances ever in a tournament as they lost all three games in the Group Stages, scoring just one goal as they went down against Italy, Japan and Ecuador. Coach Diego Ramirez lost his job as Mexico questioned how things could go this bad, when a lot of us who had paid attention to this team knew this was a strong possibility.
Next was the turn for the U22 team to start preparations for next year’s U23 Olympic qualifiers. Under coach Jaime Lozano, Mexico went to the 2019 Toulon Tournament where they got back a third place finish. While Mexico technically went undefeated as they only lost the semifinals in a penalty shootout against Japan, they failed to impress at time and got three ties out of five games even when they were in the easiest group of the tournament. Yet it was still a better result than in their next tournament, the 2019 Pan American games in Lima. There Mexico also got a third place bronze medal, but the result wasn’t as good as the one in France. While Mexico got a group stage victory against Argentina and looked better than in Toulon, they went out in the semifinals against Honduras also in a penalty shootout. This didn’t made fans happy, as Honduras looked like an inferior team to the Mexican side. They would also then proceed to get crushed in the Gold Medal game against Argentina, leaving Mexico fans wanting more. It also wouldn’t help that while Mexico won 1-0 against Uruguay in the bronze medal match, they were totally outplayed. Yet overall the U22 team had a fair record in a year prior to the more important 2020.
It was then on to the U15 tournament, and the U15s might have had the most uneven performance. After winning the D’elle Nazioni Tournament in Italy against Japan, the U15 looked like a solid team but in their biggest official tournament (there is no U15 World Cup), the 2019 U15 CONCACAF tournament, they unexpectedly bounced out in the Quarterfinals. After a good group stage tournament, Mexico lost 2-0 against Canada and went out of the tournament. Mexico was favored to get to the final and maybe win it all, but the loss against Canada closed out a year that seemed promising with a lousy end.
Finally it was the turn of the U17 Tournament. Under a heavily questioned Coach Marco Antonio “Chima” Ruiz, Mexico prepared to go to the U17 World Cup in Brazil. Mexico had a better chain of results in friendlies than the U20 although they did have a bad loss against Argentina 3-0. Mexico then started slowly in the World Cup with a 0-0 tie against Paraguay and a loss against Italy by 2-1. Mexico’s qualification was in danger but luckily for them, the four best third placed teams would make it through to the knockout stages and they faced the Solomon Islands, the weakest team in the tournament. Mexico crushed them 8-0 in what was the biggest margin of victory by any team in the whole tournament. Mexico then were expected to go out in the Round of 16 against a talented Japan team that had been one of the best teams in the group stages. Mexico however had a huge improvement in their level of play and got a totally deserved 2-0 victory. They then faced a tough match in the quarterfinals against South Korea but once again Mexico came on top with a 1-0 victory. Mexico had made history again with a semifinal clash but they were once again heavy underdogs against a Netherlands team that was Euro champions and had crushed Paraguay 4-1 in the quarterfinals. Still, Mexico held tough even though the Netherlands were slightly the better team. The Dutch took the lead but a great free kick by Efrain Alvarez gave Mexico the 1-1 tie. The teams then went on to have the only penalty shootout of the tournament and Mexico’s goalkeeper Eduardo Garcia became the hero as Mexico won the shootout and got to the final. In the final, Mexico took the 1-0 lead against host Brazil but a controversial penalty and a last minute goal gave Brazil two goals for the 2-1 win. Still Mexico got to a U17 World Cup final, and they were by far the best result of the year for an under age side.
Overall it was an historic year for Mexico just based on the U17 World Cup run. While other sides had from average (U22) to catastrophic (U20) results, the U17 team’s success means that the year is historic. Mexico will now have a slower year although it has the most important youth tournament of them all, the Summer Olympic games to be held in Tokyo. The U23 tournament will determine which teams play the tournament and they will be held in Guadalajara next March. Hopefully like 2011, a U17 World cup final means a good run of results that can end with another Olympic medal.