PUEBLA, Mexico – The United States gave El Tri a tougher test that many expected in the final on Sunday, but Mexico lifted the CONCACAF U-20 Championship to continue its roll of success at youth level.
“It is mission accomplished,” U-20 coach Sergio Almaguer said in the post game press conference after his side overcame the US 3-1 after extra time. “We have in front of us a great generation of soccer players that could be among the best, if not the best.”
High praise indeed from Almaguer and, although the United States takes a lot of credit for a battling performance, it was El Tri who won the trophy and that’s important when it comes to the culture of success that Mexico has been fomenting in recent years.
No, it wasn’t a vintage performance from El Tri on the night and in many ways it was a reminder that, unlike prior to the 2011 U-17 World Cup, Mexico is now a world power at youth level and a scalp there for the taking. Certainly that was the word coming out of the U.S. camp, and no opposition is going to take El Tri lightly when it comes to the World Cup in Turkey.
“It’s what we always want,” said captain Antonio Briseno of having the tag as one of the favorites for the World Cup. “Everyday we are fighting to win ourselves a spot and give our best.”
It’s the positive, winning mentality that is going to give the full national team coach selection problems for years to come.
Overall in the CONCACAF U-20 tournament, Mexico was dominant, at times embarrassingly so. El Tri conceded only one goal in five games this tournament, scored 15 goals and controlled all the games except the final against the United States.
After the semifinal, El Salvador U-20 coach Mauricio Alfaro said that the U-20 El Tri is far superior to any other team in the tournament.
Against the U.S., there were times when that was in doubt. What separated the teams was Julio Gomez’s magical bicycle kick, which took the game away from the U.S. It seems Gomez has that natural knack of popping up at crucial moments, as he did in the U-17 World Cup. The bicycle ended up being the decisive blow to the tiring Yanks, although Jorge Espericueta added a late penalty.
But while the U.S. game showed the winning mentality now associated with El Tri youth teams, it also highlighted that there are still areas to work on.
The U.S. created chances too easily and the pressure the two defensive midfielders applied forced Mexico into giving the ball away much too often. The obvious solution is starting with Tigres pass-master Espericueta, but he needs to hit some form before the World Cup. That is unlikely at a club side that isn’t exactly known for blooding youngsters.
At the back, Atlas’ Briseno was named player of the tournament and really is the prototypical, all-action captain. But his partnership with Edgardo Marin allowed the U.S. a few more sights at goal than Almaguer would’ve liked.
While there are issues to iron out, the way the Mexican team attacks, hunts down the opposition in bunches and has players capable of changing games in an instance means Almaguer is right to stress the talent that this age group of Mexican players possesses.
Like Briseno remarked, being a favorite for international competitions is something these players relish and it would be a surprise if this Mexico U-20 side didn’t reach the later stages of the World Cup.
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