ANNE AMBRECHT / AIPS in MONTEVIDEO: These were probably the longest four minutes in their lives. Then a last free kick. Mexico wasted it and within seconds Spain’s players sank to the ground. Exhausted but happy and in tears.
It took them a moment to find the energy to celebrate. They all ran to the goalkeeper. Catalina Coll had saved their 2-1 lead in the last minutes and Spain were the new FIFA under-17 world champions.
Thus, Montevideo’s Charrua Stadium saw the favourites, coached by Tona Is, succeed North Korea at Uruguay 2018.
VIP witnesses included Uruguay’s Sports Minister Fernando Caceres, FIFA president Gianni Infantino, chief women’s football officer Sarai Bareman and Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan, who was also tournament ambassador and carried the trophy into the stadium.
Spain, despite the cold and the wind, controlled the ball on the artificial ground from the start. They tried to force Mexico back into their own half and put them under early pressure.
The first chance led to the first goal in 16th minute: Salma Paralluelo headed into the centre and Claudia Pina scored her sixth goal of the tournament. She celebrated first with her teammates then headed for the coaching zone and the substitutes at the other end of the pitch.
That was not sufficient. Minutes later Eva Navarro squared for Pina to score again.
Mexico huddled together in a circle before the restart. It was a speech to raise the team’s spirit – and it worked. Speech over, Mexico started fighting back. In the 29th minute, a header from Denise Castro hopping down and into the net.
Spain were not impressed. They accepted it more as an accident, nothing to worry about. They kept moving towards the Mexican goal through Navarro, Pina and Irene Lopez but failed to beat Jaidy Gutierrez again.
Halftime had to impact on Spain’s commitment. The Mexican fans sang all the way and their team tried even. Spain lost control of possession, and passes went astray under pressure of the will to win the final match.
The ball flew up and down the pitch but did not lead to chances. Only in more interruptions by tackles and substitutions. Anything could have happened – an equaliser for Mexico or a decisive goal for Spain in front of the 5,488 crowd.
The best chance in the final phase fell to Aylin Avilez whose shot from distance flew over the bar.
Mexico became all hustle and bustle, even in the technical area where coach Monica Vergara discussed with her staff and yelled at her team. She looked at her watch over and over again. Her team ran and ran but Spain were not to be caught.