After arriving in Canada as one of the hot favourites for the title, Mexico went on to win their first four games, raising expectations among their public of another world championship to add to the one they won at U-17 level two years ago. At fate would have it, though, El Tri came up against defending champions Argentina in the quarter-finals, and the dream ended there. Yet amid the disappointment of their abrupt departure is the certainty that many of their players will go on to make the grade at senior level and continue to enthral an appreciative planet football.
Maximiliano Moralez's strike, which took a wicked deflection off Julio Cesar Dominguez to leave Alfonso Blanco helpless in the Mexican goal, not only settled Sunday's fiercely competitive quarter-final in favour of the Albiceleste, it also signalled the end of an era for a generation of youth players who had taken Mexican football to previously unscaled heights.
"We wanted to emulate what we'd done at U-17 level two years, but it wasn't to be," says coach Jesus Ramirez. "Nonetheless, I'm very proud of these lads. They gave their all in every game and showed immense heart. That, more than anything else, is what saddens me about our elimination," he adds.
Chucho, as Ramirez is known in footballing circles, has come a long way with this group of players, having first shaped them into a team at U-15 level. "I've seen them mature, learn, grow as a team and become men. We've won a lot of trophies together, including the U-17 World Cup two years ago, so no one need reproach themselves. The defeat pained me, but nothing will ever take away the joy of having coached such an exceptional bunch of lads."
A positive balance
In a tournament replete with surprises, Mexico enjoyed an almost impeccable campaign. Prior to their quarter-final defeat, Ramirez's men had strung together four straight wins, against Gambia, Portugal, New Zealand and Congo, scoring an impressive ten goals and conceding just three. All told, the performances of Giovanni Dos Santos and Co at Canada 2007 have many convinced that the cream of this squad will be lighting up the ranks of the senior national team in the medium term - reasons aplenty for the team to hold its head high on returning to Mexico.
Team captain Patricio Araujo is one player who could see an immediate return on his side's performances in recent weeks. More than one publication has claimed the defender is destined for an imminent move to one of England's top clubs. "Getting knocked out really hurt the squad," the player says, "but we're going home with our heads held high. What really saddens me, though, is that some of us won't be back here when the side next gets together."
Also making his last appearance for the U-20s is Giovanni Dos Santos. The team's talisman and striker served notice of his talent at the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005, but has gone on to add explosive pace and finishing to his repertoire of skills. Also leaving a lasting impression on fans in Canada were the superb reflexes of keeper Alfonso Blanco, the defensive prowess of Efrain Juarez, and the passionate commitment of Carlos Vela, who, despite failing to get on the score sheet here, still made a noteworthy contribution in attack.
Without doubt, we will be hearing more about these youngsters - perhaps even at the 2008 Olympic Football Tournament in China. As Ramirez himself says: "Mexican football can rest easy. These young players will go on to form the base of the country's senior team."