Mexico penalty crushes Canada's hopes in FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup semis
Despite loss, Canadians guarantee best-ever finish at this level
Canada will finish no higher than third at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup after losing 1-0 to Mexico in Wednesday's semifinal.
Coach Rhian Wilkinson says lessons will be learned from the painful defeat — knowledge that will pay off in the future.
"I'm very proud of this team. I think they're wonderful young women," said Wilkinson, her voice hoarse from sideline shouting. "Today wasn't their day. Mexico deserved the win. I wouldn't change any one of them. We lost and they'll learn from it.
"I think many of them will play for the full Canada team one day."
Watch highlights from Mexico's victory:
The Mexicans will face powerful Spain in Saturday's final after Canada takes on New Zealand for third place. Spain defeated New Zealand 2-0 in the earlier semifinal Wednesday at Estadio Charrua.
Canada's offence stalled on the night while the defence was made to pay via a 25th-minute penalty by Mexican captain Nicole Perez.
"It was a frustrating game," said Wilkinson. "I think the first half we really saw their youth and how young they are. I don't think they grabbed the opportunity in front of them.
"But I was proud of them in the second half. They left it all on the field. And Mexico played well. They did nothing unexpected but they did enough to beat us today."
Canada had 59 per cent of possession but failed to test Mexican goalkeeper Jaidy Gutierrez. The Mexicans had an 18-7 edge in shots (5-0 in shots on target).
Wilkinson, who won 181 caps for Canada, had a teaching moment for her team when asked what it was missing Wednesday.
"Courage," she said. "I think they're very good. They're a very good team who play wonderful football, soccer, when they believe in themselves. They were moments where they doubted themselves and it looked like that on the field. I think there was a bit of courage missing."
Canada is still in uncharted territory at the tournament. Its previous best finish was seventh in 2008 and 2012.
And despite the loss, Wilkinson's team has at the least matched the fourth-place finish by the Canadian senior squad at the 2003 Women's World Cup.
The only Canadian team to do better — male or female — at a FIFA world championship is the 2002 squad, featuring a 19-year-old Christine Sinclair, that finished runner-up to the U.S. at the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship on Canadian soil.
The Mexicans proved to be a well-disciplined, hard-working team that stayed solid in defence after going ahead from the penalty spot. At the other end, they hit the woodwork twice.
It was a quiet opening with few chances, although Mexico spent more time in Canada's end early.
After winning a free kick, Canada captain Jordyn Huitema appeared to be bundled down by Felicia Escobar in the penalty box in the 22nd minute when the ball came in from the set piece. Referee Anastasia Pustovoytova was unmoved, however.
The Russian did see a penalty at the other end when Canadian defender Maya Antoine, who had given the ball way with a poor touch, brought down the speedy Alison Gonzalez as she raced towards the by-line. A distraught Antoine was yellow-carded on the play.
Watch highlights of Spain's win over New Zealand:
Perez cooly slotted home the penalty into the corner with goalkeeper Anna Karpenko rooted to the spot. It was the match's first shot on target.
The Canadians began to build possession and Huitema scored what looked like the equalizer in the 38th minute after pouncing on a poor Mexican pass and beating Gutierrez. But the goal was waved off with Teni Akindoju ruled to have bodied a defender to the ground to allow her captain a clear path to goal.
Canada had 59 per cent of possession in the first half but was outshot 9-2 (3-0 on target).
While Canada moved forward in a bid to get the tying goal in the second half, the Mexicans were content to bide their time and counter-attack.
Huitema was limited to shots from distance as the game wore on.
"I was very proud of her leadership ... I thought she actually played her teammates into the game as much as she could," said Wilkinson, who used 20 of her 21-woman roster during the tournament. "It wasn't our best team performance today."
Asked about a Spain-Mexico final that features two female coaches, Wilkinson replied with a slight laugh: "Right now I'm just sad I'm not one of them."
"Good luck to both of them," she added.
Canada defeated Germany 1-0 in the quarterfinals while Mexico beat Ghana 4-2 in a penalty shootout. Both teams had finished second in their preliminary pools — Canada at 2-1-0 in Group D after losing 5-0 to Spain and Mexico at 1-0-2 in Group B.
Mexico had beaten Canada 2-1 in semifinals of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship in June.