Winless in Turkey, Mexico’s only hope of advancing to the knockout stages of the U-20 World Cup was to beat Mali by as many goals as they could in their group-stage finale and then hope other results went their way.
Fortune wore green on Friday.
First, El Tri did their part, saving their best performance for last in Group D play, walloping Mali 4-1 in Gaziantep. Rebounding from the finishing woes of their previous two losses, Mexico came out fast and furious and were up 2-0 by the 12th minute, and could have buried a handful of other opportunities.
FC Dallas goalkeeper Richard Sanchez kept things tidy in back and was perfect except for giving up a 20-yard volley from Mali’s Samba Diallo in the 62nd minute.
But with goal differential on his mind, Mexico coach Sergio Almaguer made three offensive substitutions in the second half – including Chivas USA forward Julio Morales – and turned the screws on the Africans with two more goals to secure the win. The capper came in the 85th minute through Houston-born Tigres UANL youngster Uvaldo Luna.
The result gave Mexico a tenuous three points through three group-stage games, with a slim hope of clinching one of the four best third-place finisher spots in Turkey.
Then later Friday, the exact combination they needed came to fruition: Colombia routed El Salvador 3-0 while the host nation rallied to beat Australia 2-1. Those results mean that, regardless of whether England and Uruguay win their games on Saturday and finish better than Mexico, El Tri will be no worse than the fourth-best third-place finisher in the group stage.
Got all that? What isn’t known yet is whom Mexico will face in the Round of 16. Saturday’s results will decide their opponent – either Spain or Portugal – on July 2 or 3.