Mexico reaches fourth U-17 semifinal in five Cups

Ali Avila (#19) of Mexico is mobbed by teammates after scoring the only goal of the match against South Korea. (Photo by Bruna Prado - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
Ali Avila (#19) of Mexico is mobbed by teammates after scoring the only goal of the match against South Korea. (Photo by Bruna Prado - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images) /

A second-half goal by substitute Ali Avila gets El Mini-Tri past a tough South Korean side.

Mexico’s Under-17 team overcame a sloppy first half and finally discovered its patient “possession game” midway through the second half before creating a goal from a corner kick in minute 77. The 1-0 win over South Korea sets up a Nov. 14 date with the Netherlands in a semifinal, a scenario El Mini-Tri has become familiar with after reaching the Final Four in three straight U-17 World Cups (2011, 2013 and 2015).

The Koreans came out and established their game from the outset. Their strength is their defensive organization and they pressured Mexico into turnovers and short possessions. Even so, striker Santi Muñoz almost got El Tri on the board in minute 6 with a flat-footed shot from outside the box but the ball curled just wide of the far post. Mexico seemed to be caught off guard by the speed that South Korea flashed, too often getting beaten to the ball and frantic with their passes. Discipline at the back by Mexico’s central defenders kept goalie Eduardo García from being tested.

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Some scribes had identified South Korea as the weakest of the quarterfinalists and it almost seemed that El Mini-Tri had read those articles because they appeared to sleepwalk through the first 30 minutes. The Asians had a nice scoring chance in close in minute 21 but could not get the ball on net.

Mexico continued to look mechanical and hesitant, both offensively and defensively, but maintained a steady back line. In minute 41, Alejandro Guzmán – and Atlas product – zipped a free kick from 25 meters that Korean keeper Shin Songhoon barely deflected, clanging off the crossbar.

El Mini-Tri came out of the locker room after the break still careless in transition, failing to sustain possessions. Coach Marco Antonio “Chima” Ruiz made a couple of changes shortly after the hour mark, inserting Rayados striker Ali Avila and Israel Luna (Pachuca). Out came Efráin Alvarez and Bruce El-Mesmari, star forwards who were mostly unproductive on the day.

Mexico to U-17 semis
Eugenio Pizzuto gestures to the crowd in the stands in Vitoria, Brazil, after Mexico defeated South Korea in a World Cup quarterfinal. (Photo by Maddie Meyer – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images) /

Captain Eugenio Pizzuto (Pachuca) took aim at goal in minute 64 but his on-target shot was blocked by a defender.

As the clock ticked past 70, Mexico finally began stringing passes together and moving the Korean lines around. El Mini-Tri advanced, steadily maintaining possession in the Korean half. The pressure produced a corner kick in minute 77.

Mexico took a short kick and José Ruiz controlled with his back to basket just inside the box along the touch line. Ruiz then lofted a high cross toward the back post and Avila rose above his marker to head back to the near post and Mexico led 1-0. Nine of Mexico’s 12 goals in this tournament have come after halftime.

Mexico to U-17 semis
Mini-Tri goalie Eduardo García punches out a Korean centering pass during the second half of their quarterfinal match. (Photo by Maddie Meyer – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images) /

Just 5 minutes from time, Ruiz almost gave up the equalizer when he misjudged a bouncing ball right in front of his own goal, allowing a point-blank shot on goal that García parried around the post. Mexico seemed to get a little tense, making panicky passes and failing to clear the zone effectively. Soon enough, El Mini-Tri caught its breath and moved the ball around, even creating a 3-on-2 break that could have clinched it, but Bryan González (Pachuca) scuffed his shot wide.

The whistle blew at 90+6 and Mexico was in the semifinal. Waiting for them is Holland, a dominant 4-1 winner over Paraguay in an earlier semifinal (and the Dutch had two goals annulled for offside). Mexico played Paraguay in the group stage, settling for a scoreless draw.

El Mini-Tri will be trying to get to its first U-17 final since 2013 where they lost to Nigeria. Mexico won the 2011 World Cup, its second title in the age category (2005).

Mexico ref given key semifinal assignment

Ref Adonai Escobedo has been given the whistle for Monday’s Italy-Brazil quarterfinal clash. If the Aguascalientes native does a nice enough job in that match, he could get another assignment before this World Cup ends. Of course, his chances would be restricted a bit should El Tri continue to win, because he would not be permitted to call a game in which Mexico played.

During the group stage, Escobedo was the lead official for the France-South Korea match as well as the Cameroon-Spain contest.