Canada’s players leave the field at the end of a 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup semifinal soccer match against Mexico, in Montevideo, Uruguay, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. Mexico won 1-0. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)

Mexico penalty crushes Canada hopes in semifinal of FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup

Mexico 1 Canada 0 (Penalties)

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Captain Nicole Perez’s first-half penalty sent Mexico to the final of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup with a 1-0 win Wednesday that consigned Canada to the third-place match.

Spain defeated New Zealand 2-0 in the earlier semifinal at Estadio Charrua.

The Canadian women will meet New Zealand on Saturday in the consolation final before Spain and Mexico face off to see who joins France, Japan, South Korea and North Korea (twice) on the list of under-17 world champions.

“It’s about getting over this tomorrow,” said Canada coach Rhian Wilkinson. “Tonight I’m going to let them be sad, because it hurts for sure.”

Canada’s previous best finish at the U-17 tournament was seventh in 2008 and 2012.

Despite the loss, Wilkinson’s team has at the least matched the fourth-place finish by the Canadian senior team 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.

Wilkinson made four changes from her quarterfinal starting lineup with Sonia Walk, Ariel Young, Leonie Portelance and Teni Akindoju coming in for Julianne Vallerand, Wayny Balata, Kaila Novak and Jade Rose.

The Mexicans proved to be a well-disciplined, hard-working team that stayed solid in defence after going ahead in the 25th minute. At the other end, they hit the woodwork twice.

Canada had 59 per cent of possession but failed to test Mexican goalkeeper Jaidy Gutierrez, outshot 18-7 (5-0 in shots on target).

It was quiet opening with few chances, although Mexico spent more time in Canada’s end early. Mexico’s Natalia Mauleon’s shot went high in the 13th minute.

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.

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.

Vanessa Buso’s shot in the 30th minute was comfortably handled by Karpenko.

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 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).

Wilkinson sent on Novak and Balata for Akindoju and Walk at halftime, moving Huitema to a more central forward position.

While Canada moved forward in a body to get the tying goal, the Mexicans were content to bide their time and counter-attack. They came close in the 55th minute when Sivana Flores’s curling shot from long range hit the post with Karpenko beaten.

Caitlin Shaw was yellow-carded for a 67th-minute late challenge that left both players down for a while.

Scoring chances remained elusive for Canada as the clock wound down with Gutierrez unchallenged. Wilkinson sent on Jessice de Filippo for Andersen Williams in the 75th minute with her final change.

Shaw was lucky to stay on the field after kicking out at a Mexican player with about 10 minutes remaining. The foul went unnoticed.

Mauleon hit the post in the 85th minute as Mexico came close to doubling its lead.

Canada kept coming, making for a tense five minutes of stoppage time. But it could not breach the Mexican defence. Mexico threatened in the 94th minute on a counter-attack but its final shot was blocked by a lunging Canadian.

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 and Mexico at 1-0-2 in Group B.

It marked the first time the CONCACAF rivals had met at a FIFA women’s youth tournament. Mexico had beaten Canada 2-1 in semifinals of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship in June.

Canada, Mexico and New Zealand were all first-time semifinalists at this level. Spain, which beat Canada 5-0 in round-robin play, reached the semifinals in 2010, 2014 (when it reached the final) and 2016.

Four of the tournament’s previous five finals (2008, 2010, 2012 and 2016) went to extra time or penalty shootouts.

Like Mexico, the Canadian women had a rough road to Uruguay.

CONCACAF abandoned its regional qualifier in April after just six games in Nicaragua because of unrest in the capital, Managua. The tournament was rescheduled to June in Florida.

Mexico lost 3-2 to the U.S. in the CONCACAF championship game. Canada secured the final qualifying berth for Uruguay by edging Haiti 2-1 in the third-place game on an 89th-minute goal by Williams.

Canada was forced to change coaches in August after Bev Priestman quit to join the English women’s coaching staff. The 36-year-old Wilkinson, a veteran of 181 senior internationals and seen as a future senior women’s coach, was elevated from assistant coach.

Wilkinson put her own stamp on the team, bringing in six new faces from the qualifying tournament roster.

Canada, Germany, Ghana, Japan, New Zealand and North Korea are the only countries to have qualified for every edition of the U-17 champion since its inception in 2008.

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