Fate decreed that Group A was to be the tightest group of all at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2009, with three potential title-winners going head-to-head. In the end, there were to be no surprises, as Nigeria, Argentina and Germany all progressed to the second round. Honduras, who will be cursing their luck in the draw for a long time to come, caused all three opponents problems, but ultimately failed to win any points.
Argentina-Colombia, Ijebu-Ode, Wednesday 4 November, 16:00 (local time)
Switzerland-Germany, Lagos, Wednesday 4 November, 19:00 (local time)
Nigeria-New Zealand, Abuja, Thursday 5 November, 19:00 (local time)
The tale of the teams
Nigeria knew that the hopes of a nation were resting on their shoulders, which perhaps explains why the pressure got to them in their opening match. The Golden Eaglets were being completely outclassed by Germany, losing 3-0 after a hour in their home World Cup. From somewhere, however, they found the mental strength to get back into the game, scoring three goals without reply to secure a point, and they have not looked back since. Since then, they have recorded a 1-0 win over Honduras and beaten Argentina 2-1. The Albicelestes, who finished as group runners-up, will no doubt be regretting their decision to field a weakened team, which may well have been what deprived them of top spot. In their previous games, they had done what was required of them and notched up two wins, while putting in mediocre performances.
Germany, on the other hand, were perilously close to a first-round exit, and would only have had themselves to blame had it come to pass. Leading 3-0 against Nigeria and 1-0 against Argentina after making flawless starts, the Mannschaft inexplicably fell apart to record a draw and a defeat respectively. But in their final group game, the European champions managed to pull off the opposite feat, overturning a deficit to beat Honduras 3-1 and thus ensure a best third-placed finish. So while the unfortunate Catrachos had nothing to lose, they ended up suffering defeat in all three of their matches. They can, however, be proud of their performance, having only lost by a single goal to both Argentina and Nigeria, and taken the lead against Germany.
Beaten at their own game: In footballing folklore, fighting till the last second and overcoming a hopeless situation is seemingly a uniquely German trait. Yet on the opening day of Nigeria 2009, the tables were very much turned, as the Mannschaft had to settle for a 3-3 draw, despite having led 3-0 after an hour's play. Clearly inspired by their opponent's great feats of the past, Nigeria managed to beat the comeback kings at their own game.
It only takes a minute: When Honduras opened the scoring in the second-half of the final group match, it looked like Germany would be on the next plane home, but Lennart Thy had other ideas, which he put into action in the space of a minute. Having equalised in the 55th minute, he struck again straight after the restart to put the Mannschaft on course for the second round. Ironically, the reason why this was such a high-pressure match for Germany was because in their previous match against Argentina, they themselves had conceded two goals in a minute, and almost at the exact same time (56th and 57th minute).
Ploughing a lone furrow: Drawn in a group with three heavyweights, Honduras decided to play it safe most of the time, using captain Antony Lozano as the lone frontman. It was a tactic which failed to secure the Catrachos a single point, but allowed their centre-forward to shine. With his speed, power, technique and impudence, he was more than a handful for the defenders tasked with marking him.
45 - At the end of the group stage, Nigeria had played more FIFA U-17 World Cup matches than any other African country. Until then, the continental record (43 matches) was held by Ghana, who did not qualify for Nigeria 2009.
"If we exit the tournament with no points, but in a few years' time this generation goes on to raise the level of Honduran football, then I'll have done my job." Eugenio Umanzor, Honduras coach