Photo: The Golden Eaglets set to conquer
*Mexico-Nigeria (Concepcion, Thursday, 20.00, local time)*
Mexico set up a mouthwatering FIFA U-17 World Cup semi-final showdown against Nigeria after eliminating Ecuador with a 2-0 win in Coquimbo.
Claudio Zamudio’s first half strike and Bryan Salazar’s penalty after the break saw off the South Americans, who fail to go one better than their only previous quarter-final appearance at this level in 1995.
The Mexicans were swift out of the blocks, controlling the ball well and attacking Ecuador dangerously in the opening moments. Most notably Eduardo Aguirre came within inches of opening the scoring within the first minute after a cross-shot flashed wide.
Ecuador began to grow in stature, though with the electric Jhon Pereira breaking free of the Mexican defence before hitting a toe-punt shot which Abraham Romero got down to turn round the post.
It was the two-time U-17 World Cup champions who took the lead though, with Zamudio slotting home from inside the penalty area after Salazar nodded down a deep free-kick.
El Tri doubled their advantage just after the interval when No20 fouled No20 in the Ecuadorian penalty area. Jean Pena brought down Mexican substitute Jose Gurrola, and Salazar stepped up to slot past Jose Cevallos in the Ecuador goal.
The remainder of the game saw Mexico retain the ball for long spells, rarely troubled by the Ecuador attack. Mario Arteaga’s side head to Concepcion for their final four clash against the four-time champions – a truly remarkable game in prospect.
Belgium and Mexico complete final four
THE DAY REPLAYED – Belgium, who has now entered into uncharted territory at this level, and Mexico, who have previously been down this road several times, defeated Costa Rica and Ecuador respectively to advance to the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Chile 2015 on Monday.
El Tri, two-time champions and finalists as recently as two years ago, secured their place in the last four courtesy of a closely contested 2-0 victory over Ecuador in Coquimbo. In the end, the major difference between the two teams was finishing ability, with the Mexicans striking at two opportune moments, despite being dominated for significant portions of the match.
The Belgians, meanwhile, reached the semi-finals in just their second appearance at the tournament. Intriguingly, they are the only one of the final quartet not to have won their group, having qualified for the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed teams.
Les Diables Rouges were also made to work hard for their win in Concepcion, Costa Rica putting up stiff resistance to the very end, in what was the Central Americans’ fourth appearance in the U-17 World Cup quarter-finals.
Ecuador 0-2 Mexico
Belgium 1-0 Costa Rica
Goal of the day
Belgium 1-0 Costa Rica, Dante Rigo (27)
Generally, free-kicks situated just off to the right of the opposition penalty area are ideal for a left-footed dead-ball specialist. However, Belgium’s Dante Rigo showed he was not one for footballing conventions, lifting the ball beautifully over the wall and into the net with his right boot. The graceful effort left Ticos goalkeeper Alejandro Barrientos with no chance and propelled Belgium into the semi-finals.
Having just been eliminated from the competition, Ecuador’s Byron Castillo promptly burst into tears. Among the first to console him was Mexico captain Jose Esquivel, who held the young midfielder’s head in his hands and offered him some carefully chosen words of solace. “I told him that he should be happy and proud of what he and his team-mates had achieved,” the sympathetic full-back told FIFA.com. “Football’s like that – you win some, you lose some. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Third time lucky
Although their U-17 World Cup semi-final berth is a first, Belgium’s clash with Mali on Thursday will provide the European side with a third opportunity to reach the final of a FIFA-run tournament. After the semi-finals at the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™ and the 2008 Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, both of which ended in defeat, can they finally reach the showpiece match at Chile 2015?
It is reasonably common to hear footballers shouting in an attempt to motivate themselves and their team-mates in the tunnel prior to kick-off, but the Belgian and Costa Rican players took things to a new (decibel) level at the Estadio Municipal Ester Roa. Every time a Belgian cried out, a Costa Rican responded in kind, and so it continued until both teams received the nod to head out onto the pitch. Inevitably, the match itself was also a back-and-forth affair.
3 – The number of times in a row that Mexico have made it to the semi-finals of the U-17 World Cup, emulating Brazil, who achieved the same feat between 1995 and 1999. Only Ghana (between 1991 and 1999) have managed more consecutive appearances in the tournament’s last four.
“Oh, what a great game Mexico-Nigeria is going to be. It’s amazing how football offers rematches like this. We’re all behind the U-17 @miseleccionmx as they go all the way!” Alex Diaz Liceaga, a member of the Mexican U-17 side that lost the final of UAE 2013 to Nigeria, via his Twitter account.
Thursday 5 November
Mali-Belgium (La Serena, 17.00)
Mexico-Nigeria (Concepcion, 20.00)
(All times local)
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