After 21 days of intense competition and 35 incident-packed high-quality encounters, the identity of the four South American qualifiers for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 has finally been revealed. While Brazil unsurprisingly cemented their status as the continental champions, Peru continued their recent impressive progress, and Colombia and Argentina made their returns to the world stage after four long years.
Venezuela and Ecuador brought up the rear in the final six-team group but can be pleased with their efforts and obvious potential for the future. Read all about it as FIFA.com takes a look back at the highlights from Ecuador and assesses South American hopes for the main event in August.
With four berths available for the FIFA U-17 World Cup finals in Korea, an increase of two places on the 2005 South American finals, there were plenty of incentives for the six teams contesting the final group.
As they seek to avenge that shock Final defeat to Mexico two years ago, it came as no surprise to see the Brazilians finish top of the pile. Edgar Pereira's side arrived in Ecuador having won an incredible seven of the last 11 continental titles. And after finishing a relatively lowly third in the group phase and squeezing through on goal difference, the Auriverdes slipped through the gears in the final six-team group, scoring 15 and conceding only two en route to an impressive four wins and a draw.
"We've got a terrific side with some great kids," enthused Pereira. "I'm always trying to motivate them and to do that I use the senior side as an example, where 80 per cent of the players came through the ranks. These boys on the right track I can tell you."
Colombia and Argentina came home in second and third places respectively and booked their returns to the world stage after reaching the semi-finals at Finland 2003. With the experienced Eduardo Lara at the helm, the Cafeteros were the only side to take points off the Brazilians and claimed second spot after falling to a solitary defeat to the Albicelestes. For their part, Miguel Tojo's side overcame a spate of injuries to top Group B and take third place in the final group, and will head to Korea 2007 with high hopes of claiming their first world title in the category.
Peru sneak home
The fourth and final qualification spot went to Peru, an indication of their development since hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2005. Juan Jose Ore's team sprang the surprise of the tournament when they pipped Ecuador and Brazil to first place in Group A. Although their form dipped in the final group with a solitary win, two draws and two defeats, coach Ore had every reason to be cheerful with his team's showing: "We achieved something quite a few people thought was beyond us. That's fantastic for Peruvian football in general and I hope we get the support we need to do well in Korea."
A total of 108 goals were scored in the 35 matches contested at Ecuador 2007, a healthy average of 3.08 per game. Brazil were the sharpest shooters with 29 in all, followed by the Colombians on 16. The Cafeteros boasted the tournament's best defence, conceding only five times, and also took home the Fair Play award.
The six teams that reached the final group were also rewarded with a place at the 2007 Pan American Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro.
Stars of the future
Just as they did with Ronaldinho in 1997, Brazil seem to have unearthed yet another player with the potential to become one of the biggest stars in the game. The prodigy in question is Lula, the attacking midfielder from Corinthians, who became the tournament's highest ever scorer with an amazing 12 goals in nine games. The Brazilian number ten turned heads with his dazzling skills and deadly finishing, and is being widely tipped for a move to Europe in the very near future.
Not that the talented tyro is letting success go to his head, however. "I'm not even thinking about the senior side yet," he said. "I've just turned 16 and I've still got a lot to learn. I want to hold down a place in the first team at Corinthians and win lots of things with this team here."
Another player to make his mark at Ecuador 2007 was Peru striker Reimond Manco, who was named player of the tournament. Although the youngster from Alianza Lima grew up in Venezuela and even turned out for the Vinotinto U-15 team, there is no doubting his commitment to the Peruvian cause. "I've got plenty of skill and a good change of pace, and I'm delighted we managed to qualify," he commented.
Among the other talents to emerge in Ecuador were Brazil's Fabio, the Argentinian Eduardo Salvio and Colombia's Cristian Nazarith, the all-action America de Cali striker who chipped in with six of his side's goals.
* Qualifiers for Korea 2007
All teams qualify for the 2007 Pan American Games