Group B: Great Garay and wee-giant Josimar electrify Turku
1. Argentina, 9 pts.
The only team with a perfect nine, three wins from three matches and no goals conceded, Hugo Tocalli’s new U-17 team were led by the imposing and impressive Ezequiel Garay. Dominant in the air, comfortable on the ball and a great reader of the game, the tall centre-back appears to have it all. From the moment his beautifully curled 20-yard free kick found the back of the Australian net early in the opening match, the Newells Old Boys’ player has not put a foot wrong.
Despite their territorial dominance, the Albiceleste have not found goals easy to come by in the lowest scoring group. But substitute striker Hernan Peirone has confirmed he has that uncanny ability of getting in the right place at the crucial moment. As with all Tocalli’s sides, teamwork is the most vital ingredient and in Neri Cardozo, Ariel Colzera and Diego Lagos, he has talented attacking players willing to make sacrifices for the common goal.
2. Costa Rica, 4 pts.
Qualifying through the drawing of lots, the Ticos are a lucky team – an attribute not to be dismissed too lightly. They are also blessed with some wonderful players. With his quick brain, fast feet, infectious passion, Josimar Arias, s his name would suggest, was born to play football. His sensational late equaliser against Nigeria in the opening match proved just how much of a talent the short, curly-haired midfielder really is.
With his tremendous engine, left-sided midfielder Pablo Rodriguez is as good at spotting holes in an opponent’s defence as he is in blocking them in his own area. With a cultured left foot and the ability to deliver the perfect cross, the tall elegant number 11 is one of the first names on Manuel Urena’s teamsheet. And helped by the tireless efforts of unsung heroes Crisanto Esquivel and Roberto Flores in midfield, Costa Rica have once again produced a team capable of competing with the best.
3. Nigeria, 4 pts.
It was not just for his 1.84m that playmaker John Mikel stood head and shoulders above his team-mates on Finnish fields. Always influential, the elegant midfielder pushed his fellow Golden Eaglets towards goal after suffering the set-back of going a goal behind early on to the Australians in the second game. Despite being subjected to a number of stiff challenges and suffering from cramp, he smashed in the quality equaliser to help lift his team to their solitary victory.
Much was said of Nigeria’s striking tandem before the event began, but it was the lightning-quick Ezekiel Bala rather than Isaac Promise who found the Nordic land more to their liking. Following on from his decisive strikes in qualifying, Bala hit two more bullets to shoot Augustine Eguavoen’s Africans to the very brink of the quarter-finals.
4. Australia, 0 pts. The cloudy Finnish skies did not set well over Ange Postecoglou’s new crop of Australians. After three convincing defeats, the budding stars showed few signs they would soon flower into tomorrow’s stars. Goalkeeper Nick Crossley was one who did show he had the ability and temperament to make it to the top. The 15-year-old produced a string of fine saves and blocks to keep the Joeys, reduced to ten men in two matches, down to respectable scorelines.