Group C: USA and Korea DPR upset the odds
Few would have predicted the outcome in Group C at the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005. For in Chiclayo, it has been the quality of the Americans and the Koreans that has risen to the top. The stars and stripes have come out playing a slick, no-nonsense game, while the Koreans recovered from a stuttering start to showcase their main assets of frightening pace and technical prowess.
Of the losers it was the Italians physical and undisciplined style of play - in their second match especially - which most disappointed. The Ivorians, for their part, were guilty of excessive naivety, although their flair in attack offers some hope for the future. Read on for the full analysis.
1- United States, 7 pts
When he stepped off the plane in Peru, American coach John Hackworth had the following to say: "Each of my boys knows his role perfectly. We are very well organised and disciplined." It is true that his boys have never really been in trouble and against the Koreans, their physical strength came to the fore. Without ever really turning on the style and at times being left trailing in the wake of the speedy Koreans, they succeeded in imposing themselves on the game. Against the Italians, they looked in command throughout, stifling the Azzurrini in midfield and denying them the chance to express themselves. They gambled on their attacking dynamism to win them the game and in David Arvizu and Ryan Soroka, they had the necessary trump cards. Also noteworthy were the excellent displays of Kyle Nakazawa, a key weapon in dead-ball situations and for winning possession, while at the back, Ofori Sarkodie and Nik Besagno formed a formidable central defensive pairing.
2- Korea DPR, 4 pts
Without doubt the sensation of this first round, Korea DPR came to Peru with a modest target and an air of mystery surrounding their playing style. That their first performance was laboured can no doubt be put down to the fatigue caused by a long journey, for what followed was on an entirely different matter. Against the Ivorians, Jo Tong Sop's charges could almost have been playing in an exhibition match. "Our pressing game in midfield enabled our strikers to make good use of the space up front. Consequently, we were three goals up by half-time," purred the Korean technician after the clash. Displaying a seamless team game played at a very high tempo, the Koreans looked extremely impressive. In Hung Ryong Ri and Chol Min Pak, the Asian vice-champions clearly possess some excellent technicians, while striker Myong Ho Choe has a great nose for goal and Kuk Jin Kim is a reliable outlet on the right flank. The latter, however, will be unavailable for the quarters after being dismissed against the Italians, but so strong is their sense of teamwork that they no doubt have an able replacement to slot smoothly into the role.
3- Italy, 4 pts
Nothing really went right for the Italians. Despite a miraculous victory in the dying seconds of their opener against the Ivorians, the Europeans looked ill at ease throughout. "Our youth teams aren't doing well at World Championships for a simple reason: we are not ready physically as early as the others. Consequently, I have focused my selection and my preparations on the physical aspect," explained Francesco Rocca before the event. Despite these precautions, his young colts were completely outfought by the vibrant Americans in their second game and completely lost their cool, their coach included. That still left them with a good chance to go through by beating the Koreans, but the Squadra were unable to seize it. From what has been a distinctly forgettable tournament for them, the displays of Matteo Mandorlini in midfield and Enrico Alfonso in goal still stand out, while if he can curtail his disciplinary transgressions, the clear quality of striker Andrea Russotto will surely shine through. As for Christian Tiboni and Salvatore Foti, they showed only intermittent flashes of talent.
4- Côte d'Ivoire, 1 pt
The Ivorians' showing at the tournament can only be classed as a big disappointment. After convincing in the qualifiers in Gambia, the Africans looked capable of doing well in Peru. But when they lost their first match in the final seconds against Italy (4:3), their morale seemed to evaporate. The second game against the Koreans was nothing short of catastrophic, as they shipped three goals in the first half and displayed total apathy for 90 minutes. "We failed to turn up today. Our marking was horribly slack and we left them way too much space. And my strikers were so slow, soft and timid that I could hardly recognise them," admitted François Bohé after the game. Their collapse was all the more disappointing for the fact that their first display had been promising in certain areas, but at least the Baby Elephants departed on a high note courtesy of the draw claimed against the Americans. In what was a decent performance, Alassane Diomande, Koffi Kouassi and Serge Kouadio showed their technical quality and attacking verve, while the substitute Ismael Fofana exhibited all his class. At the back, the main cause for optimism came from a fine display by Irénée Kouakou.