Wednesday's meeting between Brazil and Mexico in Pereira promises to be a thrilling and worthy semi-final at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011. Both teams came through their quarter-finals in convincing fashion, even if the Brazilians were taken as far as a penalty shoot-out by Spain.
The teams have met three times at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the past, with the honours even so far. The first clash came in 1977 at the inaugural U–20 tournament in Tunisia, and that too was a semi–final, where the Mexicans came out on top courtesy of a 5–3 shoot-out victory. The teams drew 2–2 in Porto 14 years later, with Brazil winning 2–1 in Adelaide two years after that in 1993.
The quarter-final clash between A Seleçãozinha and Spain was a genuine thriller between two sides committed to attack. The South Americans twice took the lead but ultimately edged into the last four on penalties, with in-form keeper Gabriel saving two Spanish spot-kicks. For their part, the Brazil juniors converted all four of their penalties, and will surely be confident should the semi-final go to the sudden-death elimination stage.
Wednesday's match will be the South Americans’ 11th appearance in the semi-finals in their 17th tilt at the global crown. In complete contrast, Mexico have only made the last four on one previous occasion. Brazil are now unbeaten in their last 12 matches at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, their last defeat coming at the 2007 edition in Canada, when they fell 4–2 to Spain in the Round of 16.
In the Brazilians’ five matches so far in Colombia, Dudu has earned himself the coveted ‘super sub’ mantle with three goals after entering the fray from the bench. The sharp-shooter has clocked up a total of 179 minutes’ playing time, giving him a strike rate of one goal per hour on the field.
Silverware is of course always demanded of Brazil, but the Mexicans could be even more motivated on this occasion, as victory in the final would crown a magnificent recent streak for the nation's footballers. The most junior national team won this year's FIFA U-17 World Cup in front of their home crowd, and the seniors came away with the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, so the U-20 trophy would round off a glorious summer for the Mexican game.
In truth, the Mexican U-20 side made a muted start to the showdown in Colombia, with only one win, against Korea DPR, at the group stage, and a nervy Round of 16 victory over Cameroon on penalties. However, they seem to have peaked at the right time, after going into the quarter-finals as underdogs against the exuberant hosts but recording a fine and fully merited 3-1 triumph.
In one respect, El Tri’s second appearance in the last four is already one for the record books, as they will move onto 49 matches at the FIFA U-20 World Cup and overtake long-term rivals USA as the CONCACAF nation with the most games in the history of the tournament.
13 - Brazil have scored 13 goals in Colombia so far, the best total of all four teams still in the tournament. Their five-match haul is more than four times as many as the Portuguese, who have reached the same stage after scoring just three goals in normal and extra time. For the Brazilians, Henrique, Philippe Coutinho and Dudu are all on three goals apiece.
“We face a huge test now, because we're playing Brazil. They're exceptionally difficult opponents and they play extremely good football. We watched them against Spain, and we're ready for them. We'll need to be focused and we'll have to give our all. We'll concentrate on playing as a team, just as we've done all the way so far,” Mexico midfielder Hector Acosta.
“Mexico are nothing at all like Spain. They use a completely different set of tactics and a different formation, but they are a really good team. They combine extremely well and also have a handful of genuinely top-class individuals. And they'll be bursting with confidence after beating hosts Colombia, because it wasn't a game they were expected to win. They'll definitely make it very difficult for us,” Brazil coach Ney Franco.