By DAVID MOSSE
One of the better Under-17 World Cups in recent memory drew to a close on Sunday with Mexico knocking off Uruguay 2-0 in front of nearly 100,000 fans at the fabled Azteca Stadium. The hosts fully deserved to claim the trophy after surviving the much tougher side of the draw, and a second Under-17 title in four editions stamps Mexico as one of the rising powers in international soccer.
Such was the wealth of talent at Raul Gutierrez's disposal that more ballyhooed stars like Carlos Fierro and Arturo Gonzalez were kept relatively in check, and Mexico still controlled the match throughout. Defender Antonio Briseno actually broke the deadlock midway through the first half, while Fierro and strike partner Marco Bueno squandered numerous opportunities to seal the win.
Uruguay struggled to overcome the absence of Rodrigo Aguirre, who went out early with a head injury, and Giovani Casillas finally settled matters with a goal deep in stoppage time. It was a fitting climax to a day that also included a sensational third-place contest between Germany and Brazil, as the Germans rallied from a two-goal deficit to earn a 4-3 victory at Azteca.
Steffen Freund's side finished with an astonishing 24 goals in six games, and the epic semifinal against Mexico must go down as one of the great matches in the history of the competition. Talented striker Samed Yesil failed to add to his total on Sunday, but Okan Aydin picked up the slack, finding the back of the net twice, while Koray Guenter and Levent Aycicek added goals.
Brazil improved upon its performance from two years ago when a squad featuring Neymar and Philippe Coutinho failed to advance past the group stage, but Emerson Avila will wonder why his back-line played so poorly in the last two games. Ademilson proved to be a revelation with five goals, the third highest total behind Yesil (6) and Ivory Coast standout Souleymane Coulibaly (9).
Coulibaly grabbed most of the headlines early on and the globalization of the sport was on full display with the likes of Japan and Uzbekistan playing some of the most outstanding soccer of the opening rounds. The Japanese produced the largest victory of the entire tournament with a 6-0 thrashing of New Zealand before being eliminated by Brazil in another memorable encounter.
England performed better than usual by reaching the quarterfinals, while France unearthed two exciting prospects in Abdallay Yaisien and Yassine Benzia. Uruguay was denied its first-ever title at this level, but the future remains bright for the South Americans. Just not as bright as Mexico's, however, which continues to reap the benefits from a greater emphasis on its youth program.
It remains to be seen whether Fierro can follow in the footsteps of his idol Javier Hernandez, or if Bueno is another Giovani dos Santos in the making. But Mexico is beginning to produce talented players in bunches who figure to attract plenty of attention from European clubs, and could represent excellent options for the senior team down the road.
Here are five players who impressed over the past month:
Souleymane Coulibaly, Ivory Coast
Coulibaly certainly made the most of his time in Mexico, bagging nine goals in four games to finish as the tournament's top scorer. He has already drawn comparisons to Didier Drogba and Real Madrid is rumored to be interested in his services. Coulibaly began his assault by finding the back of the net in the 2-1 loss to Australia in the opening match, and there was more to come.
The Ivory Coast hitman struck four times against Denmark and added three goals in a thrilling draw with Brazil to conclude the group stage. His final tally came in the second-round loss to France, as Coulibaly matched the previous tournament record held by Florent Sinama Pongolle, who achieved the feat 10 years ago and with the benefit of three extra games.
Julio Gomez, Mexico
Gomez didn't even start the final against Uruguay, but he received the loudest ovation of any Mexican player after coming on midway through the second half. The enduring image of this tournament will be his spectacular overhead kick that stunned Germany in the semifinal, and the ensuing celebration with Gomez running around the field with his head heavily bandaged.
Even Mexican president Felipe Calderon was full of praise for the 16-year-old midfielder, who will return to Pachuca as a national hero. Gomez was terrific throughout the competition, displaying impressive vision and rugged determination. He also scored Mexico's opening goal in the 3-2 victory over Germany and played a part in Jorge Espericueta's equalizer late in the second half.
Mitchell Weiser, Germany
Germany was absolutely loaded with attacking talent, including striker Samed Yesil, who finished as the tournament's second-leading scorer with six goals, but no player caused more trouble for opposing defenses than right back Mitchell Weiser. His rampaging runs down wing resulted in a number of scoring opportunities in each game, and Weiser found the back of the net three times.
The 17-year-old scored against Burkina Faso and Panama in the group stage, and the United States in the second round, but his most impressive display came in the 3-2 victory over England in the quarterfinals. Weiser provided pinpoint assists for two of Germany's goals, both scored by Yesil, and his tireless energy proved crucial late in the game with England staging a comeback.
Emiliano Velazquez, Uruguay
Velazquez very nearly missed the semifinal with Brazil after picking up a knock in the victory over Uzbekistan in the previous round, but the captain recovered in time to marshal the back-line, as Uruguay stunned its South American rivals with a 3-0 win. The lopsided scoreline belies the fact that Brazil enjoyed greater possession and created a number of chances throughout the match.
Uruguay never cracked, however, as Fabian Coito's side rode a stingy defense all tournament long to reach the final. Velazquez was a big reason why and not just for his impressive leadership skills. The 17-year-old displayed tremendous composure on the ball and recovery speed to deal with talented wingers on his side of the field, as the Celeste allowed five goals in seven games.
Lucas Piazon arrived in Mexico with the bigger reputation given his recent transfer to Chelsea, but if not for the female fans going crazy each time he touched the ball, Piazon would've hardly been noticed at all. Just like in the South American Championships earlier this year, Adryan was Brazil's outstanding player and his suspension for the semifinal against Uruguay proved devastating.
The Flamengo playmaker was forced to drop back deep to pick up the ball because Brazil once again lacked a central midfielder capable of providing the proper link-up from defense to attack. Adryan still managed five goals, including a sensational strike against Japan in the quarterfinals, and he combined very well with Ademilson, who also outshone Piazon with five goals of his own.