Few could have predicted the outcome of Group D at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011, where an unfancied Uzbekistan side took top spot in the section. At the opposite end of the table Czech Republic also surprised many with their early departure, while joint runners-up USA and New Zealand, equal on points and goal difference, had to be separated by the drawing of lots.
The tale of the teams
Uzbekistan suffered a crushing 4-1 defeat in their first outing against New Zealand that cast grave doubt on their ability to compete with a well-drilled USA outfit and the powerful and slick Czech Republic. In their second fixture, however, the AFC U-16 Championship runners-up proved the naysayers wrong with a battling 2-1 win over the Stars and Stripes, before showing steely resolve in their final must-win contest against Czech Republic, shrugging off an early deficit and a raft of missed chances to score twice and take the three points.
Never having missed an edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, USA carried a burden of expectation into the tournament and initially looked on course to fulfil the most optimistic predictions. The side’s performance in the 3-0 drubbing of Czech Republic was a master class in controlled aggression, but they fell at the next hurdle, out-muscled by a resurgent Uzbekistan. Forced to go all out for victory in their last outing against New Zealand, they were unable to find the net early and ended up settling for second place in the group after to the drawing of lots.
New Zealand’s performances at Mexico 2011 have been a revelation. Few would have bet against the Kiwis qualifying following a glitzy 4-1 humbling of Uzbekistan but, though they maintained their high standards against Czech Republic, their efforts went unrewarded in a 1-0 reverse. A single point from a scoreless draw against USA moved them into joint second in the table, only to drop down a place after lots were drawn.
The magic armband: Midfielder Abbosbek Makhstaliev was absent for Uzbekistan’s first match, but when he ran out as captain for their next fixture he made an immediate impact, winning and converting a penalty to notch his side’s decisive goal. He repeated the feat against Czech Republic, netting Uzbekistan’s second to secure the win and put his side top of Group D.
Carmichael’s hat trick: Torreon’s football public wanted goals, and New Zealand’s lightning-quick winger Stephen Carmichael was only too happy to oblige, blasting a hat-trick in the opening Group D game against Uzbekistan. What really got the crowd going was the manner in which he achieved this milestone, displaying speed, control and expert judgement as he the back of the net from all angles.
Out of focus: Czech Republic’s position at the bottom of Group D was perhaps as unexpected as Uzbekistan’s at the summit, but the latter have to shoulder much of the blame themselves. In particular they will need to work on their profligate attacking game that produced only two goals from 39 shots. Indeed only one of their players got on the scoresheet, Lukas Julis, with one coming from the penalty spot.
4 – The number of players from Group D who scored two goals: Abbosbek Makhtaliev and Timur Khakimov for Uzbeksitan, Lukas Julis for Czech Republic, and Alfred Koroma for USA. New Zealand’s Stephen Carmichael top-scored with three.
“I’m proud of what we’ve achieved here. It was a dream, and today it’s come true. Qualifying for the round of 16 is the result of an incredible effort by the players. Torreon’s our home ground now and we hope to exploit that in our next game,” Uzbekistan coach Aleksey Evstafeev.