Nigeria 1999: Spain finally take a bow
Spain put an end to South American supremacy in the FIFA World Youth Championship, Brazil and Argentina having carved up the three previous tournaments between them. The Spaniards qualified from a tough-looking group which included Brazil, Zambia and Honduras, overcoming the Auriverde (2-0) with ease. Iñaki Saez Ruiz's charges then drew with Zambia (0-0) and beat Honduras (3-1), before disposing of the USA, Ghana, Mali and finally Japan in the Final. The young Iberians impressed with their one-touch game, Xavi and Gabri slowing things down in the middle of the park before changing pace and direction with striking efficiency. And in Pablo they possessed the tournament's best striker (five goals).
African sides more than held their own in Nigeria, with four teams from the continent reaching the last sixteen, two making the quarters and one getting to the semis. In particular, unfancied semi-finalists Mali drew admirers with their belligerently offensive game. Seydou Keita and his team-mates battled their way past Portugal (2-1), Cameroon (5-4), Nigeria (3-1) and Uruguay (1-0) to finish third, in only their second appearance.
The sensations of Nigeria '99, however, were the team from Japan, coached by Frenchman Philippe Troussier. The Asian side waltzed their way to the final, ousting England, Portugal, Mexico (who beat holders Argentina) and Uruguay en route. Led by the two gems in their side, Masashi Motayama and captain Shinji Ono, the young Japanese played excellent football throughout, with the exception of the Final, when fatigue clearly took its toll. Japan's second-place finish was nonetheless the best by an Asian side since Qatar finished runners-up in 1981.
Player of the Tournament:
Just like his team, Seydou Keita's performances were as unexpected as they were refreshingly welcome. It was Keita who made the young Eagles tick: a tricky dribbler and an awesome striker of the ball, he was blessed with great composure and led by example. Anyone looking at the young star's pedigree would have known what to expect though; Keita's uncle, Salif Keita, had been a star in African football and played professionally in France back in the '60s and '70s. Seydou signed a five-year contract with Marseilles just before the tournament started. Today he plays his football at Lens.
Esteban Cambiasso (ARG), Ronaldinho (BRA), Ashley Cole (ENG), Shinji Ono (JPN), Koji Nakata (JPN), Seol Ki-Hyeon (KOR), Seydou Keita (MLI), Rafael Marquez (MEX), Julius Aghahowa (NGA), Roque Santa Cruz (PAR), Damien Duff (IRL), Robbie Keane (IRL), Gabri (ESP), Xavi (ESP), Fabian Carini (URU), Diego Forlan (URU), ...
Nigeria 1999 stats:
158 (av.: 3.04)
Mali and Spain, 16 goals
- Pablo (ESP), 5 goals, 2 assists
- Mahamadou Dissa (MLI), 5 goals, 1 assist
- Gaspard Komol (CMR) and Taylor Twellman (USA), 4 goals
Bauchi, Calabar, Enugu, Ibadan, Kaduna, Lagos, Port Hacourt
624,400 (Final: 38,000)
Spain became the ninth Latin side to win this tournament. Only three non-Latin nations: USSR (1977), West? Germany (1981) and Yugoslavia (1987) have won the title.