Group A of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 was dominated by the tournament hosts, who won their three games to qualify with ease for the round of 16. Accompanying them there will be unfancied Congo, whose strong showing meant there was no place in the next round for reigning European champions the Netherlands and their Asian counterparts Korea DPR, who could muster only three points between them.
The tale of the teams
Raul Gutierrez’s Mexico side displayed many virtues in topping the group, not least their solid organisation, resolute character and high fitness levels. Giovani Casillas provided the individual brilliance that put them a cut above their rivals, and though none of their wins were routine, they stuck to their principles and passed every test they faced. Inconsistent but bursting with potential, Congo broke new ground by reaching the second phase of a FIFA tournament for the first time in the country’s history. The Red Devils caught the Dutch off guard in their opening game to record a famous win, gave Mexico a scare despite being reduced to nine men, and held off a determined Korea DPR to gain the point they needed to qualify.
The North Koreans depart Mexico thinking about what might have been. An Ye Gun’s tactically disciplined side took the lead in their three games, converting the first clear chances that came their way in each of them, yet failed to record a single victory. Though only Mexico got the better of them, the Asian champions were left to rue missed opportunities in the decisive game with the Congolese. Even more disappointed with their contribution were the Netherlands, the kings of Europe and serious contenders for the title. Despite producing some attractive football, the Dutch lacked punch up front, paying dearly for their false start against Congo and signing off with a last-gasp loss to the Mexicans.
Casillas the catalyst: With an hour gone of their first match against Korea DPR and the score tied at 1-1, Mexico coach Gutierrez threw on Giovani Casillas in a bid to break the deadlock. It proved to be a masterstroke. Within seven minutes of his introduction, the Guadalajara midfielder forced an own goal and later sealed the win from close range. After providing another assist in the win over Congo, Casillas put his side on the road to a third victory against the Dutch.
Let’s hear it for Congo: The home fans made the entertaining Africans their second favourite team, giving them vociferous support in their outings against the Dutch and the North Koreans. In appreciation, the Congolese made a point of celebrating their qualification for the next round with their new fan club.
Clockwork Orange breaks down: Despite having twice as many shots on goal than Korea DPR and Congo (24 to their 12), the Dutch came up well short in their efforts to reach the last 16. In propping up the section with a single point, the misfiring Oranje managed only three goals, the same number as the two teams above them.
18 - The number of players Congo coach Eddie Hudanski used from his 19-man squad, one more than Raul Gutierrez of Mexico and Albert Stuivenberg of the Netherlands, both of whom had 21 players to choose from. In contrast, Korea DPR’s An Ye Gun used only 15 members of his roster.
“The conclusion is that the level in the World Cup is higher than it is in Asia. The fact we failed to hold onto leads in our three games is proof of that. What we need to do in response is work on our tactics, technique and physical conditioning in training and come back and do better the next time,” Korea DPR coach, An Ye Gun.