A riveting display by star player Giovani Dos Santos was the catalyst for a convincing 2:0 win for Mexico over Uruguay in the opening game of the FIFA U-17 World Championship. El Tri's victory in Lima's National Stadium, their first ever against South American opposition in the history of the tournament, leaves Jesús Ramírez's side in pole position in Group B.
On a cold afternoon in the Peruvian capital, it was left to the enterprising Mexicans to turn up the heat. This they duly did, first by means of their noisy and colourful travelling supporters, and later with their high-octane play on the pitch. A combination of short passes, physical domination and pace in the midfield saw the CONCACAF champions threaten to open the scoring in the early exchanges. Particularly impressive was Giovani Dos Santos, who showed his class from start to finish.
"We all knew what Giovanni was capable of doing. He's an explosive player with a great reading of the game and remarkable composure. However, we shouldn't forget that he is surrounded by quality players," the Mexican coach said afterwards.
Gustavo Ferrín's side, for their part, looked solid in defence but struggled to win and keep possession. When they did manage to put their foot on the ball, they looked over-reliant on the solitary Elías Figueroa up front. Not surprisingly, the busiest and most impressive player for the young Celeste was goalkeeper Jonatan Irrazabal, who had to be at his sharpest to keep out de Dos Santos and Adrián Aldrete among others. When he was finally beaten, his Uruguayan team-mate Hugo Arismendi was on the goal-line to save his side. By contrast, the Mexican keeper Sergio Vargas was rarely troubled by the Celeste.
No mercy from Mexico
The game quickly slipped into the same pattern in the second half, only this time Mexico were in less forgiving mood. Only two minutes had elapsed when Dos Santos slipped a delightful through ball into the path of Carlos Vela. The Guadalajara striker skipped past a defender before rounding the onrushing keeper and slotting his right foot shot inside the near post (0:1; 47'). It was no more than Mexico deserved, and worthy of the tournament's opening goal. Uruguay tried in vain to hit back immediately, but Dos Santos was not finished yet. Breaking swiftly from defence, the Barcelona starlet swept past two opponents on the right flank before sliding the ball across the box for the unmarked César Villaluz to fire home (0:2; 54').
The second goal seemed to knock the wind out of the young Charrúas, who looked helpless in the face of their opponent's power and discipline. Giovani almost capped a superb display with a goal of his own, but a pair of searing left-foot strikes from good positions just missed the target. At the other end Figueroa almost pulled one back, but Arias watched his powerful right-foot shot all the way and pushed it safely wide.
And that was it. Despite throwing everything at El Tri late on, Ferrín's side lacked any clear ideas on how to break down the defence and finished empty handed. Giovanni and Mexico had done enough, and the loud ovation at the final whistle was testimony to their skill and endeavour.
Next up for Mexico will be Australia, while Uruguay, who have now gone three games without a win against CONCACAF sides, will be hoping to do better against European champions Turkey. "We know that a draw (in our next game) followed by a win over Australia would put us on our way. Today we didn't play as well as we expected, but there is still time to put that right," a disappointed Ferrín said after the game.