Mexico lives up to hype

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

Who knows what they did while in diapers or what lies ahead in old age. As teenagers, Mexico's young soccer phenoms are an impressive bunch.

The reigning world under-17 champions showed last night that they are maturing nicely through adolescence in a riveting 2-1 over Portugal in a FIFA Under-20 World Cup win at BMO Field.

With style matched by substance, the Mexicans showed they are among the favourites to add the U-20 crown to their honour roll.

The victory before a rocking, sellout crowd of 19,500 brought the most tantalizing taste of World Cup fever to Toronto yet in the fifth tournament game played here.

"The two teams are very equal," Portuguese coach Jose Couceiro said. "The Mexican coach said it best: 'We're going to see each other again in the final.' "

Argentina, Brazil and a host of others might have something to say about that, but for now, both of last night's combatants have enough reason to be confident.

Portuguese and Mexican fans, anxious to see the ample young talent of each nation, created the atmosphere.

And they were treated to a game that built in both drama and quality and proved the latest coming-out party for Mexican sensation Giovanni dos Santos, already an established professional with Barcelona in Spain.

The 18-year-old team leader -- one of 10 players on this roster who also won the U-17 crown -- scored the first goal on an easy penalty kick three minutes after the break.

The goal, which beat Portuguese goaltender Rui Patricio to the bottom left, triggered an entertaining second half.

Substitute Pablo Barrera's score in the 66th minute gave Mexico some room, but not necessarily comfort. The Portuguese began attacking in waves, forcing Mexican 'keeper Alfonso Blanco to make several big saves.

He held them at bay until the 89th minute when defender Antunes took advantage of a free kick just outside of the area buried the shot to the top of the net.

"I'm very happy for our boys," said Mexico coach Jesus Ramirez, whose team moved to 2-0 and clinched a spot in the round of 16. "They beat an excellent team. Bit by bit, they will be better."

The advance billing to this tourney was that there would be games you wouldn't want to miss. They would bring big crowds and a chance to identify future World Cup stars.

Last night's colourful crowd took care of the first promise as a noisy, edgy throng hung on every possession.

Stars such as dos Santos fulfilled the rest.

The son of a Brazilian professional, great things have long been predicted and he always seems to deliver on the appropriate stage.

The goal he scored last night was the latest, with more likely to come over the next few weeks.

And those who saw dos Santos last night will remember it well when he makes the inevitable graduation to the senior World Cup.


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