Group A: Ramirez runs riot; Menekse makes a point
1. Colombia, 7 pts.
The group-winning South Americans were every bit a sound, collective squad with a focus on the overall eleven. But despite the well-contrived teamwork always on display in Eduardo Lara’s side, the young Cafeteros offered the finals some brilliant individual footballers - standing head-and-shoulders above the rest. Starting slowly with the only goal-less draw of the finals against Mexico, they closed their first-round account with a stunning 1-9 defeat of the Finnish hosts after a fortunate victory over China. The outstanding attacking prowess of Carlos Hidalgo saw him grab four goals in a fantastic ninety minutes of football against the outgunned Finns, joining Barnstorming fullback Pablo Armero (built in the Roberto Carlos mold) with his muscular, hulking physicality and creativity getting forward on the left flank to make Colombia one of the tougher teams of the first round.
2. Mexico, 5 pts.
Second-place Mexico looked a smashing side from the outset. Despite the disappointing and overly respectful draw with Colombia in the opener, they stormed back to down Finland with ease, before drawing China to take firm hold of second spot. Rugged captain Alberto Ramirez leads the team by example with tremendous technical talent and a tireless work rate. A roving midfielder who turns up with lethal intent in every corner of the pitch, he is as strong in the tackle as he is comfortable peppering inch-perfect passes to foraging frontrunner Julio Ceja, and fine attacking midfielder Rafael Murguia. More a true number ten, than the five on his back suggests, he is truly a Tricolore for the future – a fact Argentine-born Mexico boss Humberto Grondona is not hesitant to point out. “He is the best player on the field and can play many different roles…and that is why he is my captain.”
Along with the assured and confident defending of Luis Robles at the back, Mexico looked one of the sides of the first round.
3. Finland, 3 pts.
Brave Finland were beaten but not disgraced in their first FIFA U-17 World Championship. Strikers Jarno Parikka and Tomi Petrescu linked up brilliantly for three goals, while Turkish-born, meandering playmaker Umit Menekse produce creative moments of pure class for the Rascals in an ultimately disappointing Group A campaign. Despite being left for dead by his defenders in a final 1-9 hammering at the hands of Colombia, goalkeeper Aapo Kiljunen proved himself a brilliant shot stopper with a fine footballing future staring him in the face.
4. China PR, 1 pts.
China – earning a point for pride after an inspiring 3-3 draw in their last match with Mexico – had a stable of fine attackers that caused more than a bit of trouble for the rest of the competition in Group A. The chubby, round-faced Wang Yongpo showed glimpses of pure footballing class with two goals, and some fantastic combination work with outstanding three-goal hit-man Jiang Chen and the always exciting Jiang Ning.