LINUS LINDAHL / AIPS* in AL AIN: The dream of retaining the crown won two years ago is still alive for Mexico in the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 after a 3-1 win against Iraq in their second group clash in Al Ain.
Captain Ulises Rivas sealed their tournament comeback with their third and last goal with six minutes remaining.
Mexico’s opener on Saturday was a nightmare in Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium in the shape of a 6-1 defeat by another challenger to the title in Nigeria.
Coach Raul Gutierrez made two changes in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s game and chose to put Ulises Jaimes, Mexico’s goalscorer against Nigeria, on the bench. Like their opponents, who had 3-1 previously to Sweden, they were seeking redemption to avoid an abrupt end to their campaign.
Half an hour into the game Francisco Calderon served Alejandro Diaz a perfect cross in an Mexican attack. The Club America striker threw himself forward and headed beyond goalkeeper Hayder Mohammed’s right hand. The Mexican supporters began to sing and wishes about a long stay in UAE were reborn on the Central American side of the stadium.
Diaz’s goal was just a starter for Mexico. Ten minutes later Iraq defender Ahmed Nadhim tried in vain to clear the ball out of the penalty area only for Jose Almanza to extend his team’s lead with a volley.
In the second half the Mexicans lost focus for a while and Iraq glimpsed hope, one man especially – Al Shorta FC’s Sherko Kareem.
In the 61th minute Ahmed Nadhim had a shot blocked after A long dribbling run into the penalty area only for Kareem to shoot in the bottom corner of the net.
Shortly afterwards Kareem had an even better opportunity to equalise but the ball flew wide and Mexico responded to regain their two-goal advantage through captain Ulises Rivas.
If Iraq goalkeeper Hyder Mohammed had been hoping for an early present the day before his 17th birthday then he was out of luck.
Rivas’s celebration with his teammates owed as much to relief as to happiness.
Iraq, after victories for Nigeria, Mexico and Sweden, must win their last match in Group F to have any possibilities of progress.
Coach Muwafak Adlool blamed defeat on “naive mistakes” and regretted that, as a result, “our chances to qualify for the next round are small.”
Mexico’s Gutierrez praised the mental resilience of his players for reacting as they did after the opening defeat. He said: “Now we are looking forward to the next match, and I think that we have all the chances to qualify”
His players may start reliving in their minds the scenes of celebration in front of 98,943 spectators in Mexico City two years ago.
* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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