On Friday in Abu Dhabi, the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 will pit reigning champions Mexico against three-time winners Nigeria. This highly anticipated clash will be the second time that the teams have faced each other at this year’s tournament, with both having emerged from the same section.
Group F may well have been the proverbial ‘group of death,’ but three of the four teams it contained survived until the semi-finals, and two made it all the way to the final.
Long before the tournament even kicked off, Mexico and Nigeria were already regarded as favourites to claim the silverware. But after the 6-1 humiliation suffered by El Tri in their opening match against the Golden Eaglets, the title holders’ dreams of defending their trophy appeared to have been prematurely crushed, while the Africans confirmed they would be a force to be reckoned with.
But 20 days later, the final is likely to be a completely different story.
As the Nigerians went from strength to strength, Raul Gutierrez’s men dug deep to recover mentally and concentrate on the attributes exhibited by their victorious predecessors in 2011. Judging by the two semi-finals, where Nigeria saw off Sweden 3-0 and Mexico defeated Argentina by the same scoreline, the showpiece match on Friday should be a closely contested affair.
Manu Garba’s charges have two significant statistics in their favour: they are yet to be beaten in the competition, and they boast the most prolific attack (23 goals). Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi and Musa Yahaya spearhead a side that is constantly on the move and harasses the opposition with or without the ball, posing a serious challenge for any defence.
El Tri, meanwhile, have found the net with much less frequency (11 times), but can boast a compact unit that bounced back from their initial setback to eliminate Brazil and Argentina.
24 – Third at Mexico 2011, Germany broke the record for the number of goals scored at the FIFA U-17 World Cup by finding the net no fewer than 24 times. After having surpassed their own benchmark of 20 goals, the Nigerians (23) now find themselves one strike away from equalling the Germans’ impressive haul. With two matches left to play and 164 goals already recorded, UAE 2013 looks likely to become the most prolific U-17 World Cup ever, surpassing Korea Republic 2007 (165).
The player to watch
Marco Granados (Mexico)
The Chivas Guadalajara forward is El Tri’s secret weapon. The supersub has taken part in all six of his team’s matches, but has only been on the pitch for a total of 106 minutes. He makes up for his lack of playing time with high-quality incursions and intensity – in the quarter-final against Brazil, the Mexican No10 came off the bench to provoke a dangerous free-kick which led to the opener, and in the semi-final versus Argentina, he smashed home his side’s third goal. If Granados makes a cameo appearance in the final, the Nigerian defence would do well to keep him closely shackled.
“There won’t be any pressure on us against Mexico, because we’ll be physically and mentally prepared for the match. But I repeat that Mexico are a dangerous and very skilful team. We’ve witnessed their resilience since losing to us 6-1, a result which did not prevent them from reaching the final,” Nigeria coach Manu Garba.
— Rafa Marquez (@RafaMarquezMX) November 5, 2013