The FIFA U-17 World Cup got off to a dramatic start as Brazil cantered to a record 7-0 win to cement their status as clear tournament favourites on East Asian soil. However, while the Brazilians grab the headlines, Monday sees the opening match of the team regarded by many as clear second favourites behind the Seleção.
The Colombians are making waves of their own on the back of their performance at this year's South American U-17 Championship, when they stole second place from Argentina and fought out a 0-0 draw with eventual winners Brazil. The Cafeteros can also boast significant FIFA U-17 World Cup experience: Korea 2007 is their fourth trip to the finals and they finished in a very creditable fourth place last time out in Finland 2003.
Eduardo Lara was in charge of the team then and is still at the helm now. In an interview with FIFA.com, he explains why he is hoping to build on the promise of four years ago.
"I was lucky enough to coach a good team in 2003. We got to the semi-finals and Argentina only beat is in the third place play-off after a penalty shoot-out," says the experienced 47-year-old coach. "Of course I'm hoping we'll perform as well or even better, but there are no guarantees. Our dream is to take Colombian football to the very top and to do our country proud."
The South Americans' ambitions will be put to a tough early test when they face Germany on Monday at the Cheonan Sports Complex. Lara is under no illusions about the task facing his team: "I have seen a few videos of them and they are a very strong side. Their playmaker Toni Kroos is a very intelligent footballer, but they have also got a solid defence and are good going forward. They are strong opponents and we will be taking them very seriously, just as we will when we play the other teams. That's always been my philosophy."
A good start could prove vital as subsequent Group F opponents Ghana and Trinidad and Tobago are also sure to provide a stern test. The Colombians' pre-tournament preparations have gone well, however, and Lara's young charges are raring to go. "My players can't wait to start playing," he reveals. "We're facing a big challenge and only God knows what will happen in this World Cup. We want to get through to the next round and then see what happens. But we are certainly hoping to do at least as well as in 2003."
Teamwork the key
His optimism is shared by the team's captain Miguel Angel Julio. The 16-year-old midfielder from Independiente Medellin is ready for the huge challenge awaiting him and his team-mates in the sell-out stadium in Cheonan. "I am happy and privileged to be playing at my first World Cup," says Julio. "I have God and our coach to thank for that. We have a strong and well-balanced side and we aim to go as far as possible."
And the midfield man already believes he has the key to success against the Germans: "They are very good on the ball and have strong individuals in Toni Kroos and Sascha Bigalke. They let the ball do the work and you can't let them play. Our coach has us well-prepared. We need to put them under pressure and play our own game."
"It's fantastic we'll be playing in a packed stadium," Julio continues. "We'll pull together even more when we play on such a big stage. We're really looking forward to this game." A win against the Germans would be more than just a first step towards the next round. It could also help provide a springboard to an even bigger stage: "We have come here to put our skills to the test and to do our country proud. Of course we all dream, God-willing, of playing for Manchester United or AC Milan one day."