FIFA U-17 World Cup holders Mexico rebounded from their opening-day drubbing at the hands of Nigeria with a 3-1 win over Iraq in Al Ain. The Group F contest from the Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium was a tense affair and despite the Iraqis pushing hard to draw level in the second half, El Tri were well worthy of their win.
Mexico dominated the first half, pushing into attack early and often up both flanks. The Iraqis, on the other hand, created hardly a chance of note in the opening period. After just 16 minutes, the Mexicans nearly opened the scoring when the ball ping-ponged dangerously around the penalty area. Captain Ulises Rivas’ volley came off a sliding defender and fell to the feet of Alejandro Diaz, who should have done better with his effort from 12 yards out.
The Mexicans got their breakthrough in the 31st minute. Francisco Calderon surged up the right flank and crossed dangerously from a wide position. Alejandro Diaz raced to the near post to meet the ball and his flicked header bounced off the pitch and slid inside the far post to give El Tri a 1-0 lead.
Iraq’s only real chance of the half came in the 39th minute, but Mustafa Sameer’s header from a hopeful free-kick never really troubled Raul Gudino’s goal. Mexico did trouble the Iraq goal two minutes later, however, when Jose Almanza powered his shot home on the volley at the back post after Osvaldo Rodriguez’s throw-in was twice flicked on.
The Asians came out swinging in the second half, determined not to go down without a fight. They pressed forward dangerously up the left side, pressing the Mexican defence and trying to force errors. They nearly scored on the hour mark after a neat free-kick from Bashar Resan was headed inches over the bar by Mahdi Abdulzahra.
Seconds later and the Iraqis wouldn’t be denied. Ahmed Nadhim went on a slithering run through the middle and broke into the penalty area, where he crossed low for Amjed Attwan. His shot was blocked, but Sheerko Kareem followed up and hit a low laser beam of a strike in off the post from 20 yards out to make it 2-1.
Kareem nearly drew level five minutes later, but he could only shoot wide from close range after creating a bit of space for himself in the Mexican penalty area. The tide was turning, but Iraq ran out of time and Mexico finished off the contest in the final moments. Captain Rivas made no mistake when he slammed home a pulled-back pass from Ivan Ochoa.