After starting the tournament with a 2-0 win against Argentina, and knocking off hosts Chile 4-1 in the Round of 16, standing in Mexico’s way for their 4th semifinal appearance in the FIFA U-17 World Cup was another South American team in Ecuador.
Besides their two wins over the other South American teams, Mexico’s path to the quarterfinals also consisted of a 0-0 draw with Australia and an impressive 2-1 win over Germany in group play. Ecuador for their part in reaching the quarterfinals drew against European side Belgium, lost to African side Mali, and beat Central Americans Honduras to finish 2nd in Group D. In the Round of 16 matchup they beat Group E winners Russia in a 4-1 thumping to earn their first knockout win in a World Cup at any level.
Within the first minute of the match it was Mexico who were the more aggressive and forward thinking side as they pushed Ecuador back. Mexican coach Mario Arteaga must have seen something in the Ecuadorian side he liked because Mexico pressured the South American side much higher up the field than they had done previously to the other teams they’ve faced. This lead to Ecuador’s defenders struggling with playing out of the back, and giving the ball away in their own half and putting their backline under consistent pressure.
Using some nice, quick combination play Mexico were able to play around the South Americans but struggled in the final third to find the frame. As the first half continued Ecuador were able to get back into the game and create some chances of their own. They put the young Aztecs under pressure and forced Mexican goalkeeper Abraham Romero into a few saves. While Ecuador looked to have momentum building for them in the final five minutes of the first half, a free kick from inside the Ecuadorian half was played in. As the ball was crossed into the box Bryan Salazar would get his head on it and play it back into the middle, where Claudio Zamudio came to smash his right footed shot into the right side of the goal to give Mexico a 1-0 lead at the half.
The second half saw Mexico grow off the momentum of the late first half goal as they took the game to Ecuador and in the 55th minute, when Jose Gurrola found himself with this back to goal in the box, he was clearly brought down by Ecuadorian defender Jean Carlos Pena. The referee did not hesitate to award a PK for the Aztecs.
Stepping up to the spot was Salazar, who was playing his first match of the World Cup. The Mexican defender curved his left footed strike into the side netting to double Mexico’s lead and give them a firm hold on the game. As Ecuador tried to get themselves back into the match they failed to really test the Mexican defense or goal, as only three of their fourteen shots found frame. In the end Mexico was too clinical, and too overwhelming for Ecuador.
With the win Mexico has now reached their fourth semifinal in the last ten years at the U-17 level. While in the other three cases Mexico went on to win their semifinal matchup, this time around they will face Nigeria in a rematch of the U-17 World Cup Final from two years ago. In the 2013 Final the African side won their record fourth U-17 World Cup in impressive fashion by a score of 3-0. This group of Eagles look to be just as impressive with leading goal scorer Victor Osimhen leading the charge with 8 goals. Their wins are just as impressive as the goals, including a 6-0 over Australia in the Round of 16 and a 3-0 over Brazil in the quarterfinals.