Duo advance as No10s shine
© Foto-net

THE DAY REPLAYED - Spain and Nigeria joined Brazil in the Round of 16, although the pair secured their passage to the next phase in contrasting fashion on day five of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The African champions overcame Japan with a vintage display in Gwangyang, the captivating skills of Rabiu Ibrahim propelling his side to a 3-0 victory.

Their European counterparts, meanwhile, required a last-gasp goal to hand a 2-1 defeat to Syria, who were one of three tournament newcomers to deliver admirable performances. Haiti held France to a 1-1 draw in a contest that could have gone both ways but that, ultimately, left the quest to progress from Group D alongside Nigeria intriguingly poised.

Honduras, who gave Spain a run for their money before succumbing to a 4-2 defeat in their opener, again proved themselves worthy of a place on the world stage. The CONCACAF underdogs even took a surprise lead against Argentina, before a goal on the stroke of half-time brought the South Americans level. Following the restart, though, the Albiceleste found their rhythm to run out 4-1 winners.

Supersubs and super10s
Day five of Korea 2007 certainly belonged to the performances of a group of precociously gifted No10s. In the jersey current Valencia standout David Silva carried during the FIFA U-17 World Cup four years ago, Fran Merida netted Spain's opener in their 2-1 reverse of Syria. Nevertheless, it is Silva's Finland 2003 cohort Cesc Fabregas, ironically Merida's current club-mate at English giants Arsenal, who the creative midfielder most resembles in playing style.

Nobody has ever shone brighter than Jay-Jay Okocha in the Nigerian No10 shirt, and in Rabiu Ibrahim the Golden Eaglets have unearthed a player whose eye-catching arsenal of skills has already drawn comparison to those of the legendary playmaker. He failed to make the score-sheet against Japan, but he was central to almost all of the West Africans' assaults on their adversaries' goal.

The invention of Santiago Fernandez was also key to Argentina's victory, although he was outshone by team-mate Nicolas Mazzola. After watching the first half from the sidelines, the pacey attacker emerged for the restart and scored a double to put the game beyond Honduras' reach.

He was not the only substitute to make a telling contribution. Solaiman Solaiman netted the equaliser for Syria from the penalty spot, only for Daniel Aquino, a 71st minute replacement for Asier Illarramendi, to snatch all three points for Spain in Ulsan.

So close
The post-match headlines could have presented a different tale had chances been converted. With his side's game against Spain evenly poised, Tamer Haj Mohamd's late, looping header looked set to clinch Syria a famous victory, but the fingertips of David De Gea came to the rescue of the Iberians, who duly stormed down the other end to ensure the eventual 2-1 scoreline read in their favour.

France, too, will rue missed opportunities. On the hour mark, a Henri Saviet free-kick - a virtual carbon copy of his goal against Nigeria - was tipped on to the crossbar by Dorleans Shelson, whose right-hand upright denied the ten-man Mini-Bleus from the rebound. An even greater chance was to befall France captain Said Mehamha, but he skied a last-minute penalty.

Joris Delle, who stood imposingly between the French posts, also had to be at his best to deny Haiti, for whom Peterson Desrivieres and Peterson Joseph stood out, claiming all three points.

Japanese gem Manabu Saito's first half effort may not have changed the outcome of his side's loss to Nigeria, but it would have certainly decorated highlight reels for years to come. Collecting the ball from deep, he embarked on a breathtaking dribble past three opponents, before pulling his shot narrowly wide.

It may not have been Saito's day, but along with Ibrahim, Merida and Mazzola, he showed that he has the potential to reach the heights of the sport.