Flurry of goals as CONCACAF shines
The first round of the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005 is over and it is already safe to say that the current generation is a little bit special. Indeed, just looking at the number of goals scored, the Peruvian nets have been breached no fewer than 31 times since the opening day - the most since 1985.
On average, 3.25 goals have been registered per game, which by far exceeds the overall figure in the competition of 2.4 (including the second round). Some observers put this surge of scoring down to artificial pitches, but most agree that the technical proficiency and physical strength of the teams involved is on the rise. And as for the individual goalscorers themselves, Korea DPR's Coréen Myong Ho Choe, Mexico's Carlos Vela et Brazil's Ramon currently lead the way with three strikes apiece.
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The other encouraging statistic is the average gate of 15,346 spectators, a number that proves how openly the people of Peru have embraced the tournament. They have not been disappointed either, except perhaps by their own national team, whose bright play and chances on goal (59 shots on target, the third highest total) have not been rewarded by results. The same could be said of Uruguay, who return home after three straight defeats. In fact, for the first time since 1993, the South American Zone will have just one representative in the quarter-finals - a Brazil team who barely qualified.
Africa on the wane
Likewise, Africa has had a poor tournament, despite its impressive pedigree at this level (four appearances in the Final for Nigeria and two for Ghana). Disappointing in 2003 as well, the signs look slightly worrying for the Africans, and Côte d'Ivoire were probably the biggest under-performers of all. Ghana just missed out after a distinctly average showing while an excellent Gambia side had the misfortune of being drawn in an extremely tough group.
The continent with most to boast about so far is North and Central America, in fact, with all three CONCACAF sides still in the tournament. Mexico have been especially impressive, but the USA have looked solid as well, and Costa Rica have raised more than a few eyebrows.
Asia can be proud of its representatives too, not least after Korea DPR knocked out Italy. Meanwhile, China demonstrated all their quality in progressing from a group that featured the host nation, Costa Rica and Ghana. Only Qatar fell short, conceding 14 goals on their way to three straight defeats. At the other end of the scale, Mexico, Costa Rica and China have the firmest defences so far, shipping just two goals each.
As far as Europe goes, Turkey have made a strong impression and could go all the way if they continue playing at the same level. In addition, the Netherlands must be congratulated for escaping from a group where Brazil, Gambia and Qatar also lurked.
Finally, and coincidentally, the USA's Ryan Soroka netted the 1000th goal in the competition this week, while Brazil stormed past the 100-goal mark all on their own. They hit the target nine times in three games to maintain their record as the highest scorers in the history of the competition. Stay tuned to find out how they and their rivals fare in the quarter-finals!