The FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005 draws to a close tonight in Lima with the tournament's top two teams, Mexico and Brazil, squaring off in a dream final. In a game that has all the makings of a classic encounter, a newcomer to the big stage takes on the category's leading side, with kick-off scheduled for 18.00 (local time) in Lima's National Stadium.
However, history may well be the only thing separating the two sides currently leading the way at U-17 level. Both sides have lost just one game, both have had to go to extra-time on at least one occasion, and both expect to go all the way. Brazil are looking to add a fourth U-17 world crown to their enviable trophy collection, while Jesús Ramírez's team aim to become the first Mexican national side at any level to land a FIFA World Championship.
"From the moment we started working towards this tournament we decided we would not be coming Peru 'just to see what happens'. That would be really depressing," the Mexican coach tells FIFA.com. "We came here believing that, with hard work, we could progress through the tournament and become world champions. We have stuck firm to that belief and here we are, just one step away from achieving our goal. All that's left is to win the match," he adds.
Given that their opponents have reached the final of five of the last six FIFA U-17 World Championships, this will be no easy task. "It goes without saying that Brazil are a great team. However, we're not playing against their history, but against a team at a very similar level to ours. We're more than a match for them," insists the Mexican tactician. The hero of the semi-final against the Netherlands, César Villaluz, agrees with his coach: "Nothing Brazil have achieved at senior international and youth level will have any bearing on the outcome of this game. We're going to play against a good team, but out on the pitch it's eleven versus eleven." Interestingly, the only time the two sides have previously met in the final of a FIFA tournament was in the FIFA Confederations Cup 1999, and on that occasion it was the Mexicans who emerged victorious.
El Tricolor are expected to line up with the same eleven that proved too strong for the Dutch. One player guaranteed a starting berth is influential playmaker Giovani Dos Santos, whose father happens to be Brazilian. "Playing against Brazil doesn't have any special significance for me, because I was born in Mexico and I feel one hundred percent Mexican. Having said that, a final against a team of this calibre is always something to look forward to," remarked the FC Barcelona player. Meanwhile, Carlos Vela will battle it out with Igor and Ramón to see who comes out on top of the goalscoring charts. "That's the goal I set myself when I set off from Cancun, and that's what I hope to achieve on Sunday," the Mexican striker said.
Brazil, history repeated
It has fallen to coach Nelson Rodrigues to try and repeat the success of his predecessor Marcos Paquetá at Finland 2003 and lead the Auriverde to victory. Having suffered an early setback with an opening-game defeat at the hands of Gambia, Brazil's performances have improved with each game. "We knew that the tournament was going to be tough, and that our group was the hardest of the lot. But we survived, and now we're a step closer to the title," explains the coach, who has seen several of his players ruled out through injury as the tournament has progressed. "We lost a few players while we were selecting our squad for the tournament, and the same thing's happened here. We've had a lot of problems, which makes each game an achievement in itself."
A Mexican side with a formidable team ethic will no doubt prove a tough nut to crack for the Brazilians. Rodrigues for one is not surprised to see Mexico in the final: "Mexico have shown that they are a very strong team, both technically and tactically. They set out their stall with two lines of four across the park and have strikers capable of tipping the balance of the game, in particular Giovani Dos Santos. There's no doubt that this is going to be our toughest game so far."
However, those who think that the world champions are blasé about taking part in yet another final could not be more wrong. Following Saturday's early morning training session, the players were taken straight back to their hotel and refused permission to talk to the press until after Sunday's game. Mexico, you have been warned!