THE DAY REPLAYED - This year's FIFA U-17 World Cup began with 24 teams arriving in Korea Republic to play a total of 52 matches. Now just four teams and four games remain.
With teams from the Asian, Oceanian and South American zones all falling by the wayside, the semi-finals represent a clash between Africa and Europe: the new world against the old continent.
As we discovered last night, Spain will face Ghana in Ulsan, but today Nigeria and Germany emerged from their quarter-final matches against Argentina and England respectively to set up a last-four meeting in Suwon.
Progression to the semis means that both teams will be staying in the Far East for the next week, as the unlucky losers from the last four will meet each other in the match for third place, the curtain raiser for next Sunday's final at the FIFA World Cup Stadium in Seoul. No team will be thinking of acting as appetisers for the main course, however, as all four nations fully believe that they can go on and win this prestigious event.
Eaglets flying high
Just as a 2-0 victory over Peru was enough to book Ghana's place in the semi-finals, their African counterparts profited by the same scoreline against South American opposition today. Amid steady rain in Cheonan, the Eaglets met Argentina, conquerors of Costa Rica in the Round of 16 and soon found the Albiceleste a tough nut to crack.
After an opening 20 minutes with both sides feeling each other out and the only colour coming from the brightly clad Nigerian fans, it was Argentina who looked the more likely to break the deadlock. Both Santiago Fernandes and Eduardo Salvio had chances before Fernando Meza's trip on Lukman Haruna earned him a booking and Nigeria a penalty. Haruna dusted himself down and rifled his spot-kick into the top left hand corner of the net.
Nigeria effectively killed the game off with virtually the last kick of the opening 45 minutes. Rabiu Ibrahim danced through the Argentina defence and slipped a pass through to Macauley Christantus who scored his sixth of the competition. One might have expected Argentina to come out with all guns blazing after the restart, but it was the Africans who created the better opportunities in the second half, giving them a deserved victory and allowing rain-soaked coach Yemi Tella to flash a broad smile at the final whistle.
Like many great German sides of the past, Heiko Herrlich's boys are organised and efficient, ensuring that sufficient players are behind the ball whenever their goal is threatened. In addition to this, the Germans possess excellent movement and understanding which helps to create a potent attacking force.
In Kroos, ably assisted by Sascha Bigalke and Dowidat, they have three supreme midfielders, who are more than capable of orchestrating play. Their outlet, striker Sukuta-Pasu is a constant goal threat, combining pace and power to devastating effect. Hitting form and confidence at just the right time, they were a joy to watch against John Peacock's side.
England, without talismanic centre forward Victor Moses, forced to sit on the sidelines with a thigh injury, struggled to cope with the fluidity or class of Germany's offensive manoeuvres. A cool finish from Rhys Murphy in the 65 th minute pulled the score back to 2-1, but after Dowidat's and Kroos' strikes, it proved to be little more than a consolation.
So now, like France, Peru and Argentina before them, England depart at the quarter-final stage. No more will the Korean fans shriek with delight whenever caps bearing the insignia of the Three Lions are thrown into the crowd.
Yet for the Englishmen on show tonight; the caps that matter will be granted in years to come, possibly at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 or even at future FIFA World Cup finals. Those who have watched the team at this tournament would not argue against the fact of that happening.