Group A: Costa Rica shine as hosts fail
Costa Rica made the headlines for all the right reasons in Group A, while pre-tournament favourites Ghana now face a disappointing journey home. Hosts Peru do not have the burden of travel of course, but their early exit is arguably all the more difficult to bear.
1 - Costa Rica, 5 pts (goal difference +2)
It would be fair to describe Costa Rica's group win as one of the shocks of the tournament so far. The Central Americans only secured their place at Peru 2005 after two play-off matches against Honduras, but seemed to take great confidence from their opening draw against China. The subsequent 1:1 stalemate with Ghana was followed by a 2:0 victory over hosts Peru, which catapulted coach Geovanny Alfaro's charges to the top of the group. More impressively still, the Costa Ricans had to cope without their top player Cesar Elizondo who was forced to leave the field early against Ghana. Alfaro did introduce him for the final 20 minutes against Peru and was rewarded with the goal that sealed the game at 2:0, underlining Elizondo's acute eye for goal. Costa Rica improved from game to game. The players grew in confidence as the group stage progressed and carried out their coaches instructions to the letter. Now the players are hungry for even greater success and are out to topple Mexico in the quarter-finals. "The players fulfilled their tactical duties perfectly. We always believed we could come through the first round. We have already achieved something great because we have eliminated two teams favoured for the title: Ghana and Peru," said Alfaro of the quarter-final place.
2 - China, 5 pts (goal difference +1)
China slipped into the quarter-finals as group runners-up. In the opening 1:1 draw against Costa Rica, the Chinese played attractive offensive football in the first half, but were unadventurous in the second period and no longer bypassed the midfield with the same pace. In the 1:0 victory over Peru, however, fortune smiled upon China on more than one occasion, Peru missing countless opportunities in front of goal while goalkeeper Wang Dalei played the match of his life, despite receiving a second yellow card at the end of the game and having to sit out the match against Ghana. In the final group game against Ghana, China struggled to capitalise on their numerical superiority, but coach Zhang was satisfied: "We knew what we had to do to qualify and we did it." However, the Asians will have to find another gear in the quarter-final against Turkey if they are to overcome the European champions who won their group with maximum points.
3 - Ghana, 3 pts
The first round is barely over and already the FIFA U-17 World Championship has lost one of its favourites. Ghana have packed their bags for the premature journey home after three draws from three games in Group A. The Africans could only manage 1:1 stalemates against group rivals Peru, Costa Rica and China. Coach David Duncan's technically gifted team were masterful in their build-up play but spurned chance after chance in front of goal, betraying a weakness in their finishing. The Africans were also made to pay for their lack of discipline on numerous occasions. In the opening game against hosts Peru, Ghana were a man down after just 10 minutes when Mubarak Wakaso was shown a red card. Then George Appiah lasted just 11 minutes longer in the final game against China before making an early exit. The West Africans played 149 minutes of a total of 270 with a numerical disadvantage; a handicap that proved too great to overcome. Despite Ghana's exit, coach David Duncan insisted that he was proud of his young players and "delighted" with the overall performance of his team, adding: "We can go home with our heads held high. My players were a little nervous throughout the tournament, but they gave everything and have great futures ahead of them."
4 - Peru, 1 pt
Dreams of a quarter-final place for coach José Pavoni's charges could well have become reality. The Peruvians created countless opportunities in the games against Ghana and Costa Rica, but either lost their nerve or lacked the necessary fortune in front of goal. The hosts had no cause to feel inferior to any of their group rivals in terms of build-up play and passing. They seemed to reach the opposing penalty area almost at will, but somehow the finish always eluded them, two goals from three games simply proving insufficient to secure a place among the world's eight best teams. Peru's finest performance came in their unfortunate 1:0 defeat to China, which seemed to take something away from the players. Pavoni admitted that the team's finishing problems were instrumental in preventing further progress: "The players played with a lot of heart, but unfortunately did not score enough goals. That hurts because we spent a lot of time working on our finishing. We played well but could not get the necessary results. My players are 17-years-old and will be Under-20s in the not too distant future. The hard work must continue with or without Pavoni," said the 51-year-old, whose contract expires after the World Championship.