U17 World Cup: Carlos Fierro and Mexico's New Golden Generation Conquer All Comers

Following the victory by the senior team at the Gold Cup, the U17s have made it a double for Mexico by winning the World Cup. Expect to see this talented crop of home-grown players to linked with Premier League clubs...
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They’re calling it the “El BiCampeonato.” These are golden days for Mexican soccer and if the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup and FIFA U-17 World Cup “bi-championship” trophies are any indication of what’s to come from Mexico in upcoming years, then the soccer world ought to brace itself for El TriColor.

Two championships in the last month have the world of Mexican soccer in a non-stop fiesta. And rightly so. Not only is  Mexico celebrating it’s second trophy in a month, but when Mexico defeated Uruguay 2-0 on home soil to capture the U-17 World Cup on Sunday, it marked their second U17 World Cup triumph in 6 years (they also won in 2005). Last time, it was Carlos Vela (Arsenal) lifting the cup alongside teammates Giovanni Dos Santos (Tottenham), Efraín Juárez (Celtic), and Hector Moreno (Espanyol). This time, it was a cast of young characters European football fans ought to get acclimated with now.

Mexico’s squad didn’t just host the tournament’s best player, but the 2nd and 3rd place award winners as well, thanks in part to the hometown media. But not to be overlooked are the unsung heroes in defense and in goal who may not have received the spoils, but still deserve they’re share of credit.

First and foremost however, that adidas Golden Ball winner (Man of the Tournament) was Julio Gómez, the bulldogged midfielder who plays for Pachuca in the Mexican top-flight. He is the head-bandaged hero whose image has come to represent the fearless determination that has laced the identity of Mexican soccer in recent months. Of course, Gómez’ defining moment came in the semi-finals against Germany when he was stretchered off in the second half with a gaping head wound but returned to the pitch to score a game-winning bicycle kick goal in the 90th minute. It was Gómez’ second goal of the match (3rd of the tournament) as Mexico beat Germany 3-2 in a stunning comeback. So inspiring were his heroics, Mexican president Felipe Calderon called Gómez a model for all Mexicans to look up to. With seven stitches in his head and a World Cup trophy to his name, I’m not sure the 16 year old’s head needs anymore swelling, but a nod from your nation’s leader is an impressive accolade nonetheless.

As 100,000 jubilant fans gave a standing ovation at Estadio Azteca on Sunday, they stood cheering for much more than a victory - but for many more to come.

Runner-up to Gómez was Silver Ball winner Jorge Espericueta, the 16-year old Tigres player who was the heartbeat of the squad’s free-flowing attack from his position as a holding midfielder. He may have only tallied two goals – once in group play against Congo and the other sandwiched by Gómez’s two goals against Germany in the semis - but both came at vital times for his team.

Striker Carlos “Charlie” Fierro was awarded the Bronze Ball, but of the three, he could be the one lifting the heaviest trophies come his prime. Of all the gold-mining European clubs have done in search for the “Next Chicharito,” Fierro may be the closest they’ll find. Still at the tender age of 16, the diminutive youngster is being groomed by Javier Hernandez’s old Mexican club, Chivas de Guadalajara. Fierro models his game after the Manchester United ace and has the scoring touch to show for it. He led his team with four goals in the tournament.

And while the previous three have their award trophies to gloat over, worthy of attention is the team captain, Antonio Briseño, the inspirational defender who scored what came to be the tournament-winning goal in the 30th minute against Uruguay. “Becoming the champions (is) a dream come true and the culmination of four years hard work with a fantastic group of players,” said Briseño, who plays for Mexican side Atlas and is hailed as the new Rafa Marquez.

With 7 wins in as many games at the World Cup, praise is also due to goalkeeper Alex Sanchez. Born in California and brought up through Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas academy, Sanchez has already had a stint in Europe with Atletico Madrid, but education brought him back to the States. But like the rest of his aforementioned teammates, it might not be long before Sanchez is back in Europe.

The bounding success of these youngsters is an indication of recent investments many Mexican clubs have made in their youth systems. As important as the country they play for is the club each of them is attached to. Boy-hero Julio Gómez has grown with Pachuca, but it might not belong before Barcelona grabs his signature. Tigres’ Espericueta could join Gómez in La Liga as well, as he’s been linked to Atletico Balboa in recent weeks. As for Carlos Fierro, newly promoted La Liga side Rayo Vallecano have had their sights set on him for months. However, as his label as the “New Chicharito” snowballs, British clubs like Arsenal and Tottenham and German-side Hoffenheim are interested. Regardless of where these players end up in Europe - and they will be there eventually – they will relish the opportunity to reunite for Mexico.

As 100,000 jubilant fans gave a standing ovation at Estadio Azteca on Sunday, they stood cheering for much more than a victory - but for many more to come.

5 Stars Of The under-17 World Cup

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