THE FINAL DAY REPLAYED – Mexico’s merry band of tomorrow’s stars were crowned U-17 World champions on Sunday on hallowed ground at the fabled Estadio Azteca, the very same turf where the likes of legends Diego Maradona and Pele had some of their most iconic moments. Uruguay spilled the inevitable bitter tears on the night, so close yet so far to a first title in the junior category.
While the final itself was as tense and tightly played a game as we’ve seen at this FIFA U-17 World Cup, the match for third place was a spectacle of open play, goals and carefree football. Germany beat Brazil 4-3 with the crowd treated to a dazzling undercard.
Uruguay 0-2 Mexico (final)
Germany 4-3 Brazil (third-place)
Goal of the day
Giovani Casillas 90’+2, Uruguay-Mexico
It wasn’t the prettiest goal of the day, but the reaction from the nearly 100,000 fans at the Azteca to the clinical counter-attack in the closing moments of the final was nothing short of bombastic. Collecting the ball from Arturo Gonzalez as the Uruguayans were stretched in search of a late equaliser, the super-sub extraordinaire slammed into the side netting to put the final result beyond doubt and spark scenes of unparalleled joy in the Mexican capital.
A love affair resumed
It was strange to see fans at the Azteca supporting Germany so fervently, especially just days after the semi-final where the Germans gave the home side a fright and were subjected to all manner of insults and abuse from the Torreon faithful. But the attacking nature of this German team is nothing short of infectious and the fans appreciated Samed Yesil and Co’s outstanding display as they bested Brazil to finish the tournament with the best attacking record, a full 24 goals scored in seven games. Green-clad Mexican supporters threw sombreros down to the bashful Germans and blew kisses as the junior Nationalmannschaft did an impromptu victory lap after the final whistle. Coach Steffen Freund even donned one of those oversized traditional Mexican hats at the post-game press conference, saying “adios” and “muchas gracias” with a wide smile in his best, broken Spanish.
The Colossus, the Azteca, the difference
While they did seem to care for the Germans a great deal, the Azteca fans’ one true love remained their young El Tri. And though it is a cliché to talk about the 12th man and its influence in football, the power of the hulking stadium itself seemed to count for much down on the pitch. The first glimpse the massive crowd got of their young heroes was not during the final itself. While Germany and Brazil traded goals in the third-place game, the Mexican players stuck their heads out of the tunnel for a brief second. The roar that greeted the cameo was as explosive and joyful as the cacophony of whistles, boos and clenched fists that greeted the Uruguayans’ first appearance. It was a hint of things to come as the huge crowd at the mighty Azteca roared, shouted, chanted, ‘Cielito Lindo-d’ and ‘ole-d’ the boys on to a 2-0 win and a second U-17 world title.
The man of the hour
The enduring affection for star midfielder Julio Gomez simply could not be contained. The Pachuca man single-handedly put Mexico into the final after scoring twice and playing on with a bloody head injury in the semi-final win over Germany. He started the final on the bench, but the fans, many of them wearing bandages on their head in his honour, chanted his name all night long. He received the biggest roar when he finally entered the pitch, head still bandaged, mid-way through the second half. The gathered media, most of them Mexican, also voted with their hearts, voting him the adidas Golden Ball winner as tournament top player by a wide margin.
98,943 - The number of fans that filed through the gates at the massive Azteca for the final of the U-17 World Cup. The fans turned out in their numbers to support the home side’s charge to the title, and in doing so they broke the record for the largest final-day crowd in the tournament’s 26-year history. The average attendance for Mexico 2011’s 52 games stands at 19,275.