Brazil and a trio of debutants
THE QUARTER-FINALS REPLAYED - The quarter-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005 served up some frantic action on 25th and 26th September in Piura, Trujillo and Iquitos, with two matches going into extra time. But finally, few would argue it is four very worthy sides who now progress to the final four.
The statistics speak for themselves. Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands and Turkey possess the best figures in terms of goals and strikes on goal. The Seleçao take the honours for the highest number of goals scored (12), shots (81), and shots on target (43) as well as having the top scorer, Ramon (4). Another interesting fact is that all four sides have qualified from the two groups regarded as the toughest before the competition: B in the case of Mexico and Turkey and D for Brazil and the Netherlands.
Surprisingly, given the countries represented, the final four is pretty much uncharted territory, for excluding the insatiable Brazilians with their six semi-finals in 10 tournaments, none of the other three have ever reached this stage of the competition. Even more surprisingly, the Netherlands and Turkey are taking part in their first-ever FIFA U-17 World Championship.
For all that, it is the Brazilians who have endured the hardest time at the tournament so far. In Iquitos, against the impressive Koreans, they never really dominated their opponents, but resourceful as ever, still finished them off during extra time. The Asians can be rightfully proud, however, as they equalled the best performance ever achieved by a Korea DPR side at a FIFA competition by reaching the same stage as their illustrious forebears at the FIFA World Cup in England back in 1966…
Moreover, their high-speed, technically adept game placed the accent on teamwork and enchanted all who watched. In Iquitos for the quarter-final, they showed they were far from intimidated by the Brazilians by serving up a "jogo bonito" Asian-style… But the redoubtable Canarinhos clearly have more records in their sights. With 106 FIFA U-17 World Championship goals to their name, they are the only nation in the world to have passed the hundred-mark in FIFA's three main men's competitions: 191 in the FIFA World Cup, 178 in the FIFA World Youth Championship and 106 at U-17 level.
A rerun of Korea/Japan 2002
Most observers would agree that the most impressive side in the tournament so far has been Turkey. In crushing China 5-1, they proved they were not afraid of anyone and they possess amidst their ranks several individuals of the very highest calibre. They will need every ounce of this talent if they are to defeat Brazil in a repeat of the FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan 2002™ meetings between the teams. As for the Chinese, they performed creditably in reaching the quarter-finals, just as they did back in 1985.
In a different sense, the Mexicans also showed all their qualities - mental in this case - against the dogged Costa Ricans. After equalising in the final minute of normal time, they then stepped on the gas in extra time to clinch the tie comfortably. In doing so, they have achieved their best ever U-17 performance and will now be looking to go all the way.
In the semi-finals, they find their path blocked by the Netherlands, who knocked out the Americans in a match that was more difficult than the result suggested. The serious injury suffered by Kevin Alston clearly affected the morale of the Stars and Stripes, who had been many people's favourites for the title. In reaching the quarters, the Oranje are within touching distance of equalling the achievement of the U-20 side in June, proving that the Dutch have no shortage of young talent coming through.
Of these four excellent teams, only one will get their hands on the trophy, but who it will be is truly anybody's guess. After the Mexico - Netherlands and Turkey - Brazil ties in Trujillo on 29th September, the answer will have become a bit clearer.