Cover picture: Players and officials of Nigeria celebrate in the dressing room after the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 Semi Final match between Mexico and Nigeria
Holders Nigeria has reached their second consecutive final thanks to a thrilling 4-2 victory against Mexico in Concepcion.
Mexico opened the scoring through Kevin Magana, with stunning efforts from Kelechi Nwakali and Orji Okonkwo seeing the African side ahead. Diego Cortes’s remarkable solo effort levelled matters, before Osinachi Ebere and Victor Osimhen’s late record-equaling penalty saw the Golden Eaglets into an all-African final against Mali.
Mexico controlled the ball in the opening stages of the match, and took the lead early on. Kevin Lara beat his man on the Mexican right and delivered a teasing cross into the middle. Aguirre tried to control with his chest, but Magana took charge and fired home.
Emmanuel Amuneke’s side began to grow into the game, with Kelechi Nwakali hitting a low drive from the edge of the Mexican penalty area with his venomous drive stinging the palms of Romero before the ball was cleared away.
The game see-sawed back Mexico’s way, with a free-kick from the Mexican left headed goal-wards by Jose Esquivel. The chance forced a superb point blank stop by Akpan Udoh, onto the crossbar and eventually cleared behind.
Nigeria rode their luck, with a couple of good Mexican opportunities and after riding the storm, managed to level things up thanks to the superb technique of their captain. Nwakali lined up a free-kick from around 25 yards, and curled a perfect effort into the bottom left-hand corner. Romero stood no chance.
Amuneke’s charges sensed their opponents were on the back foot, and Okonkwo took advantage, producing one of the moments of the tournament to see his side ahead. He cut inside from the left onto his right foot and thumped an effort in off the crossbar.
After the break, Mexico took time to reassert their rhythm after the shock of going behind. Cortes then stepped up to score what must be considered one of the best goals ever scored in the Estadio Ester Roa. He picked up the ball on the Mexican right just inside the Nigerian half and proceeded to dribble past five players, showing incredible close control before slotting calmly past Udoh.
Nigeria were undeterred by Cortes’s golazo and struck back. Ebere found space on the Nigerian right just inside the Mexican penalty area after a long through ball. His right-footed effort was too strong for Romero, who got a hand to the strike but could not keep it out.
John Lazarus was taken down in the Mexican penalty area, giving Osimhen the chance to score his ninth goal of Chile 2015 and go level at the top of the all-time U-17 World Cup goal-scoring charts. He slotted home with ease, adding gloss to the Golden Eaglets victory.
Nigeria head to Vina Del Mar on Sunday for an all-African final against continental champions Mali while Mexico will face off against Belgium in the match for third place earlier the same day.
Mali’s players celebrate after scoring against Belgium during the FIFA U-17 World Cup semifinal football match at La Portada stadium in La Serena, Chile, on November 5, 2015. AFP PHOTO /PHOTOSPORT – ANDRES PINA
Mali, Nigeria set up all-African decider
THE DAY REPLAYED – Defending champions Nigeria and impressive outsiders Mali overcame Mexico and Belgium respectively in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 to advance to the final.
In just their fourth appearance at this level, Les Aiglonnets have achieved a feat that no other Malian national side at any age category has ever managed: progressing to the showpiece match of a FIFA-run tournament.
They were made to work hard for their reward, however, as the Belgians went toe-to-toe with them for large portions of the match. Lady Luck also played her part in the Africans’ victory, when a seemingly harmless long ball bamboozled the Belgian goalkeeper and allowed them to take a 2-1 lead.
Nigeria, meanwhile, booked themselves a place in the final for an astonishing eighth time in 11 attempts. Like Mali, Emmanuel Amuneke’s men were tested to the limit by an entertaining Mexico team, and in the process both sides produced what is likely to be regarded as the game of the tournament to date.
Indeed, the clash had just about everything, including tit-for-tat scoring, six goals, three of which had fans leaping off their seats, and intense emotions until the very last kick of the ball.
Mali 3-1 Belgium
Mexico 2-4 Nigeria
Goal of the day
Nigeria 2-2 Mexico, Diego Cortes (60)
When Diego Cortes picked up the ball on the right, halfway inside the Nigerian half, nobody present at Estadio Municipal Ester Roa could have imagined what was about to happen next. The talented young Mexican drove at the Golden Eaglets’ defence, skilfully slaloming past five players into the box and then slotting the ball beyond the ’keeper in composed fashion to score a truly unforgettable goal.
The day started off well for Belgium’s players, as they learned that their senior counterparts had moved to the top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking for the very first time. In addition, the President of the Royal Belgian Football Association, Francois De Keersmaecker, had travelled to La Serena to witness their semi-final. “I came to encourage them because what they’ve achieved is extraordinary. Never before have we gone so far in a youth-level World Cup, and now we have the chance to finish third. I think that, despite the defeat, it’s been a great day for Belgian football,” he told FIFA.com.
The mistake by Belgium No1 Jens Teuncknes which led to Mali’s second goal did not go unnoticed by his counterpart between the sticks, Samuel Diarra. After having exchanged a few words with Teuncknes prior to the match, a magnanimous Diarra also caught up with him once the final whistle had blown. “First I congratulated him for his performance in the quarter-final, and then I told him he was unlucky today. He just got caught out by the flight of the ball. I’ve also made mistakes here. These things happen,” the shot-stopper admitted to FIFA.com.
Eight out of eight! That is Nigeria’s remarkable new record in U-17 World Cup semi-finals following their victory over El Tri at Chile 2015. In doing so, they also brought their opponents’ run of three previous semi-final triumphs (in three attempts) to an abrupt halt.
By scoring the penalty that extended Nigeria’s lead over Mexico to 4-2, striker Victor Osimhen took his goal tally for the tournament to nine, equalling the joint all-time record held by Ivorian Souleymane Coulibaly (2011) and Frenchman Florent Sinama Pongolle (2001). Few would bet against the African goal machine adding another in the final.
22 – The number of years that have gone by since the U-17 World Cup last served up a final between two teams from the same confederation. Back then, at Japan 1993, the finalists were both from Africa too, and Nigeria was also involved. For the record, the Golden Eaglets emerged victorious from their clash with Ghana, claiming the first of their four global titles at this level.
@fifacom_es It was a real pleasure! They’re excellent; a fantastic team to watch,” Former Mali international Mohamed Sissoko, responding via his Twitter account to a question from FIFA.com about the Mali-Belgium semi-final.
Sunday 8 November (all times local)
Play-off for third place
Belgium-Mexico (Vina del Mar, 16.00)
Mali-Nigeria (Vina del Mar, 19.00)