THE DAY REPLAYED - Reigning champions Mexico and three-time tournament winners Nigeria set up a mouthwatering final at the FIFA U-17 World Cup United Arab Emirates 2013 after comfortably winning their respective semi-finals. The duo will now meet in the title-decider in Abu Dhabi on Friday 8 November.
It will offer Mexico the chance to avenge their 6-1 humiliation against the Golden Eaglets in their opening game at the competition. El Tri recovered swiftly, however, and after eliminating Brazil, one of the pre-tournament favourites, they have now knocked out another highly-fancied South American side in Argentina. After a breathless encounter that included a missed penalty, two sendings off and three goals, another mature display from the Mexicans has kept them on course to defend their title.
To do so they will first have to get past probably the toughest opponent in the tournament. The Africans lead the way in the scoring charts with 23 goals so far and demonstrated their ruthless firepower once again in recording a clear victory over Sweden. It was a clear statement of intent following the sides’ 3-3 draw in the group stage.
Mexico’s ‘Octopus’ strikes again
The match between Argentina and Mexico could have turned out rather differently if Sebastian Driussi had put the South Americans ahead in the fourth minute. However, the Argentinian forward’s effort was kept out by Mexico’s superb goalkeeper Raul Gudino, who lived up to both his nickname - ‘The Octopus’ - and his reputation as a spot-kick expert, after saving two penalties in the quarter-finals against Brazil. A rueful Driussi was left to ponder the footballing adage that the player who won the penalty should never take it.
The reluctant goalkeeper
German Ferreyra also put in a solid display between the posts for Argentina, even if it was an unfamiliar position for the defender. After regular No1 Augusto Batalla was sent off in stoppage time for a professional foul on Mexico’s Christian Tovar just outside the penalty area, Ferreyra donned the gloves and kept out the ensuing free-kick. Despite his save, Ferreyra was understandably downbeat after his side’s loss.
Nigeria’s deadly duo
Nigerian pair Taiwo Awoniyi and Kelechi Iheanacho seem to share a telepathic understanding of each others’ game. Awoniyi grabbed both of his side’s goals in the quarter-final tie against Uruguay after being set up by Iheanacho and the duo combined once again to score the all-important opener against Sweden. If they can continue their form into the final, Mexico’s defenders are in for a tough evening’s work.
There was one particularly high-profile spectator among the crowd in Dubai, with none other than Diego Maradona in the stands to watch Nigeria storm into the final. The Argentinian icon also cut his teeth on the international stage at a FIFA youth competition (at the U-20 World Cup in Japan in 1979) and went on to win not only the title, but also the adidas Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. His presence certainly seemed to inspire his potential successors as stars of the world game, chief among them Nigeria’s own No10.
7 - The reigning champions have reached the final of an U-17 World Cup for the seventh time in the tournament’s history. Prior to Mexico doing so at United Arab Emirates 2013, Brazil (in 1999 and 2005), Ghana (1993 and 1997) and Nigeria (1987 and 2009) achieved the same feat. However, Brazil are the only team to have successfully defended their crown.
“It was a very intense game and one mistake, namely the missed penalty, was the difference between the two teams. If we‘d scored it, the match would have gone differently. I don’t think one team was better than the other today, and even with fewer players on the pitch we still put up a good fight,” Argentina coach Humberto Grondona.
Next up - Friday 8 November
Play-off for third place
Sweden - Argentina (Abu Dhabi, 17:00 local time)
Nigeria - Mexico (Abu Dhabi, 20:00 local time)