A hat-trick for Mexican midfielder Santiago Munoz confined the T&T under-17 football team to its first defeat in Group E of the CONCACAF Under-17 Championship 0-5 in Florida, United States yesterday afternoon at the IMG Academy.
However, the defeat did not prevent the junior Soca Warriors from progressing to the next round of the championship, along with their Mexican counterparts from the group. T&T's gutsy defence prevented what could have been a wider margin of defeat against a dominant Mexican outfit.
After two confidence-boosting victories over Bermuda and Jamaica, the T&T lads went into the match in search of a win to top the group, but they met a more-than-confident Mexico team, which prized its defence open as early as the eighth minute. Munoz delivered a pin-point cross from the right side for an unmarked Bryan Gonzalez to head home for a 1-0 advantage.
Mexico's penchant for ball possession later led to more goals, while preventing further T&T attacks which were scarce on the day. The Munoz show began in the 27th minute when Gonzalez curled the ball inside the box from a right-side freekick, for him to rise unchallenged and head past goalkeeper Isaiah Williams.
Ten minutes later the T&T defence failed to get rid of another cross ball from the right side, and the ball rolled invitingly for Munoz to calmly fire it past the TT custodian in the 37th minute.
The young Soca Warriors who were forced to come from behind against the Jamaicans on Friday, struggled to mount any real meaningful attack for most of the proceedings, as their lack of confidence rather than their ability, kept them away from the Mexican goal area.
T&T coach Stern John's decision to replace prolific striker Justin Araujo-Wilson with Gary Griffith III, son of Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, did not bear any fruit, as Griffith and company were always slower to the ball than their Mexican defenders during attacks. Mexico went to the half-time interval with a 3-0 advantage and was just as aggressive when the match resumed.
Two more goals however completed Mexico's dominant display and put them through as one of the favourites to qualify for the Under-17 World Cup in Brazil.
Efrain Alvarez, who came in as a late substitute, increased his team's tally to 4-0 on only his first touch of the ball in the 58th minute. Gonzalez on another sweeping runs down the left flank, centred perfectly for him to head home.
And with the referee's eyes on his watch, Munoz received his third goal of the match in the 88th minute, when Alvarez thread his pass through an open T&T defence, for him to calmly slot beyond the onrushing goalkeeper for a 5-0 victory.