They may have missed out on a place on the podium, but the national squads preparing for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 could hardly have asked for a better pre-tournament workout than the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Benefiting from a rare opportunity to test themselves physically and mentally against older players, the experience gained is sure to serve them well on Korean soil.
Brazil edged out, Argentina show steel
As it transpired, the tournament was to be a less than fulfilling experience for the host nation, who nevertheless showed glimpses of their undoubted talent. The young Auriverdes got off to a promising start, appearing set for a place in the semi-finals on the back of comfortable group stage victories over Honduras and Costa Rica.
However, before an astonished crowd at the Maracana stadium, an
inspired performance from Ecuador ended the Brazilians' medal
hopes. Making the most of their age advantage, the Andean side
stormed to a 4-2 win in the final game of Group A and thus
guaranteed their own involvement in the last four.
Nor did fellow South American heavyweights Argentina make it through the first phase. The Albicelestes, solid in defence but lacking ideas up front, could only draw 1-1 with Haiti and 0-0 against Colombia, before going down 2-0 against eventual silver-medallists Jamaica.
Colombia, for their part, can look back on their involvement with justifiable pride, despite failing to come out of their group. Los Cafeteros emerged from Rio unbeaten and without conceding a goal after beating Haiti 1-0 and drawing 0-0 with Argentina and a powerful Jamaican outfit. Next up for the young Colombians is the Italian city of Udine, the team's last stop before making the journey to Korea.
Also taking the opportunity to sharpen their skills ahead of their Asian exploits were CONCACAF trio Costa Rica, Honduras and Haiti. Perhaps the best performers of the three were Honduras, whose 2-1 win over the Ticos set the standard for the region's U-17 sides taking part in Rio.
Los Catrachos, and star striker Jonny Leverton in particular, also gave a good account of themselves in defeats by Brazil and Ecuador, 3-0 and 3-2 respectively. Costa Rica, meanwhile, were unable to build on their promising performances during qualifying for Korea 2007. Despite getting off to a solid start with a 1-1 draw against eventual gold medallists Ecuador, the Central Americans were subsequently defeated 2-0 by hosts Brazil and 2-1 by Honduras.
Haiti selected a squad containing both U-17 and U-20 players, and drew mixed results in Rio. The Caribbean side picked up an encouraging 1-1 draw with Argentina, but were beaten 1-0 by Colombia and 4-0 by Jamaica.
And so went the Pan American Games Rio 2007 for those teams preparing for the forthcoming FIFA U-17 World Cup, which will get underway on 18 August. On the evidence of preparatory matches being played both here and across the globe, the fans in Korea are in for a veritable treat.