SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Alice Soto scored in the 92nd minute to send Mexico to next year's FIFA U-20 World Cup with a 2-1 comeback win over Canada in semifinal action Friday at the CONCACAF Women's Under-20 Championship.
The goal came on a counter-attack with Hailey Gordon's cross finding Soto at the top of the penalty box. The Mexican forward pivoted and fired a low shot past Canadian 'keeper Faith Fenwick.
The two finalists and third-place side at the eight-team CONCACAF tournament will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at the FIFA world championship.
The defending champion United States faced Costa Rica in the second semifinal Friday. Canada will now have to beat the loser of that game in the third-place match Sunday to make the World Cup.
Substitute Kayla Briggs put Canada ahead in the 65th minute only to see Mailin Orozco tie it up 12 minutes later, benefitting from a fortuitous bounce off a Canadian defender.
After an even first 45 minutes, the unbeaten Mexicans looked to be taking control in the second half.
But Canada scored against the run of play after Mexican goalkeeper Itzel Velasco came out of her penalty box to clear a ball before Canadian Rosa Maalouf got to it. Velasco squibbed her clearance attempt and the ball went straight to Briggs, who calmly fired it into the empty goal.
Mexico pulled even in the 77th minute when Orozco's shot changed direction after deflected off Canadian defender Zoe Markesini.
The Canadians lost 1-0 to Mexico in last year's semifinal at the same venue before blanking Puerto Rico 2-0 to finish third. Mexico was beaten 2-0 by the United States in the final.
Friday's game saw video review come into play three times, with each side having a goal negated and Canada escaping a possible penalty. After falling behind in stoppage time, Canada had another goal called off for an obvious offside.
It was a windy 31 degrees Celsius, feeling like 37 degrees, for the mid-afternoon kickoff at Estadio Olimpico Felix Sanchez.
Canada looked to have gone ahead early when Annabelle Chukwu found Olivia Smith on the edge of the penalty box and the forward hammered a right-footed shot into the corner of the goal. But video review showed Chukwu was offside when she received Ella Ottey's pass.
Canada dodged a bullet in the 17th minute when a diving Fenwick got a hand to a Mexican cross before it got to Tatiana Flores in front of goal. Jadea Collin came close in the 34th minute when she outpaced two Mexican defenders and tried to chip the goalkeeper, only to see Velasco get a hand to it.
The Canadians almost profited on the ensuing corner when the ball bounced off Mexican defender Natalia Colin towards goal, but Velasco got to it in time.
A Mexican goal in the 40th minute was negated by VAR when Mirabel Flores' chip hit the Canadian crossbar and was headed in by Tatiana Flores, her sister, who was eventually ruled offside.
The sunshine gave way to rain early in the second half. Soto's shot was just wide in the 55th after a well-worked buildup as the Mexicans pressed.
Guatemalan referee Astrid Gramajo went to the pitchside monitor in the 56th minute to check for a possible penalty against Canada for contact in the box but opted against awarding a spot kick when the contact seemed incidental.
Mexico threatened in the 64th minute when Ana Mendoza's powerful free kick from long-range flew just high.
Canada made it to the CONCACAF tournament by handily winning its qualifying group in the Dominican Republic in April. The Canadians defeated Martinique 15-0, St. Vincent and the Grenadines 12-0 and Cuba 4-0 before thumping previously unbeaten El Salvador 9-1.
As last year's finalists, the U.S. and Mexico skipped this year's qualifying.
Canada finished runner-up to the U.S. in Group A, downing Jamaica 4-0 and Panama 5-0 before falling 5-2 to the Americans.
Mexico went unbeaten in topping Group B, defeating the Dominican Republic 4-0, Puerto Rico 4-0 and Costa Rica 3-0.
Canada is now 4-3-2 record against Mexico In CONCACAF women's under-20 play. The last eight meetings have all been decided by one goal or the match ended in a draw.
Canada lost two players to injury in Wednesday's U.S. game with defender Sophie Murdock and forward Amanda Allen having to come off in the 24th and 86th minute, respectively.
Allen, the lone professional on the Canadian team having signed with the NWSL Orlando Pride in early April, was on the bench Friday but Murdock returned home with a hip injury.
Fenwick replaced Coralie Lallier in goal for Canada.
Canada won the CONCACAF tournament in 2004 and 2008, defeating the U.S. both times, and was runner-up to the Americans in 2006, 2012 and 2015.
The Mexicans won the CONCACAF crown in 2018, defeating the U.S. in a penalty shootout in the final, and has finished runner-up to the Americans four times — including three of the last five tournaments.
The U.S. women have won seven CONCACAF championships at this level, including six of the last seven.
Mexico secured a 10th berth at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
Canada has qualified for eight of the 10 previous FIFA U-20 Women's World Cups, finishing runner-up to the U.S. in 2002 when Canada hosted the event. The U.S. also won the U-20 World Cup in 2008 and 2012.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2023
The Canadian Press