Mexico reclaim another crown
© AFP

Mexico again remembered the taste of title glory, with a 3-1 victory over Costa Rica in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Guatemala on Sunday. El Tri, who had not won the tournament since 1992, seized their 11th U-20 Championship crown.  Despite taking the lead, defending champions Costa Rica were disappointed and let in more than one goal for the first time in five tournament matches. Mexico, though, were in fine form and won all of their matches by at least a three-goal margin.

While Mexico and Costa Rica booked their passage to the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 three games prior to the final, so too did third-place finishers Guatemala and Panama who had overcome odds in the knockout rounds with quarter-final wins over USA and Honduras respectively.

The Davila factor
Ulises Davila played protagonist in Mexico’s compelling campaign to take the title. Having scored in Mexico’s 4-1 routing over Panama in the semi-finals on Friday, the on-form striker netted a double to guide Mexico to the trophy. Costa Rica, who went ahead against the run of play in the first half through Joseph Mora, were stifled by dominant El Tri possession and Davila quickly levelled with a curling left-footed strike into the far-side of the goal.

Mexico entered the break in confident mood as their pressure was rewarded when Carlos Orrantia put them ahead in the 39th minute with a long-range effort narrowly evading an outstretched Mauricio Vargas in goal. But, it was 19-year-old Davila who put the game out of reach.

Alan Pulido received a pass in the area from Saul Villalobos and did well to control the ball in tight space. Pulido then made a slight touch to the left, which Davila rolled with his right foot, and without a challenge shot for an easy finish. Davila ended the tournament with a team-leading four goals.

Costa Rica were left frustrated by the result and struggled to create chances of their own throughout the final. Even six-goal tournament leader, Joel Campbell, was unable to crack Mexico’s defences.

Guatemala edge on penalties
Prior to the final match, Guatemala and Panama played to a 0-0 draw in regulation, before Guatemala ended the better side winning 7-6 on penalties. Each team was reduced to ten men, with Manuel Moreno and Josimer Gomez receiving their marching orders. Moreno was charged with a second caution in the 66th minute for a foul on Marvin Ceballos, while Gomez was given a straight red for downing Marco Tulio Rivas in extra time.

First-half Guatemalan shots from distance forced goalkeeper Kevin Melgar to make some diving saves, while Panama’s long-range efforts rarely tested Guatemala’s Jose Carlos Garcia in the same manner. Chances dwindled in the second half and extra time proved much the same with neither team able to break the deadlock. The match came down to penalties, and Jose Lemus converted the winning spot-kick with a strike to the left dodging Melgar who went the opposite way.
 
Thrilling road to the final
Sunday’s final and third-place match were preceded by thrilling quarter-finals and semi-finals displays. Both finalists, Mexico and Costa Rica secured their place in the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 with quarter-final wins over Canada and Cuba. Cuba had an early glimmer of hope, but Costa Rica proved too powerful winning 6-1, while Mexico defeated Canada 3-0.

But perhaps the more exciting of the quarter-final matches were Guatemala’s upset over the USA and Panama’s win over Honduras. Guatemala had sent the Americans packing with a shocking 2-1 victory in front of an explosive crowd at the Estadio Mateo Flores and although, still booming from the upset, were on the reverse end of that same score line in their semi-final with Costa Rica. Los Ticos went up two goals on Guatemala through Mynor Escoe Miller and Bryan Vega and a consolation goal from Elias Enoc in the 62nd minute was not enough to reconcile Guatemala’s prior defensive lapses.

Panama, who had finished runners-up to USA in their group, ended Honduras's run with a 2-0 victory to claim what will be their fourth FIFA U-20 World Cup appearance. The Panamanian’s joy soon subsided, though, as Mexico thumped into the final with a 4-1 semi-final victory over the Central American side. Despite some early possession for Panama, El Tri went ahead on 14 minutes off a Davila strike. Javier Caicedo levelled for Panama in the first half, but an unfortunate own goal and David Izazola and Edson Rivera, both on target for Mexico, prevented a comeback.