x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Defending champion Mexico have shown poise in their comeback

Mexico's turnaround is complete after their 6-1 opening loss to Nigeria and now they want to return the favor at the Under 17 World Cup final on Friday, writes Amith Passela.

Mexico captain Ulises Rivas said there is good harmony and new confidence on his team ahead of Friday night’s final against Nigeria. Stuart Franklin / Getty Images
Mexico captain Ulises Rivas said there is good harmony and new confidence on his team ahead of Friday night’s final against Nigeria. Stuart Franklin / Getty Images

ABU DHABI // Mexico’s tournament could not have got off to a worse start. But their subsequent four matches could hardly have been better.

The champions were thrashed 6-1 by Nigeria in their opening match in Group F, yet they turned things around and have a chance for revenge when the teams meet again in the final on Friday night.

Nigeria are the overwhelming favourites tonight, having scored 23 goals, an average of 3.8 per match, to win all their games, apart from the 3-3 draw against Sweden.

But Mexico have already seen off Italy, the pre-tournament favourites Brazil, in a 11-10 shoot-out; and Argentina, the South American champions, in the knock-out rounds.

“We are very happy to be in the final. It is a privilege for us to be in this stage. This is the nice things in football. It puts us in different scenarios,” said Raul Gutierrez, the Mexico coach.

“We have the opportunity to play against Nigeria again. We know it is going to be a tough match for us but, definitely, it will be on a different situation.”

The manager says the change since that opening match had been psychological and tactical.

“The change from one match to the other is because we have great and awesome players in our team. They have the commitment to read our idea of the football we play,” Gutierrez said.

“They understood the mistakes they made in the first match and they were able to move forward and win their place in the final.”

Nigeria, on the other hand, have been a power to contend with from the very first game.

“Definitely, Nigeria have demonstrated their power in all their games, but also Mexico has demonstrated amazing things since the first game and we have to focus our strength for the match for tomorrow,” Gutierrez said.

“This will be a different game. Actually, this game will be tougher for both teams because they know each other, having played and then been watching each other’s games in this championship.”

Gutierrez will have a full squad at his disposal and Ulises Rivas, the midfielder, said the wins over the two South American sides had given the squad confidence.

“We can be successful because there is good harmony in the team and the new confidence and the strength of seeing off teams like Brazil and Argentina, which we want to use in the final,” he said.

Rivas was substituted after picking up a yellow card in the 3-0 semi-final win over Argentina, which the coach described as tactical to make the player available for the final.

“When I saw I was being substituted, I felt calm. I am not more important than any other player in the team,” Rivas said.

“Even if I have to be [off the pitch] when my team is playing I will do everything to support my team from outside. This is the spirit of every player in the team.”

apassela@thenational.ae

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