There have been few tighter or more surprising sections at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 than Group B. Before the start of the competition not many pundits would have tipped first-time finalists Switzerland to win their three games, including the scalps of Brazil and Mexico, the two sides who contested the final at Peru 2005. The CONCACAF side eventually joined them in the last 16, while A Seleção were forced to pack their bags early, along with the unlucky Japanese.
The tale of the teams
Switzerland shook off their tag of tournament novices to produce a series of tactically disciplined and committed displays. The hard-running Swiss were also ruthless in front of goal, taking whatever chances came their way to earn victories over Mexico, Japan and Brazil and deservedly run out group winners. Having already made their mark at Nigeria 2009, the likes of Pajtin Kasami, Nassim Ben Khalifa and Haris Seferovic all look set for promising careers.
"We won't go very far playing like this," said a critical Jose Luis Gonzalez China after watching his Mexico side progress to the Round of 16 in unimpressive fashion. But after tripping up against the surprising Swiss in their first outing El Tri recovered their poise, reprising their 2005 final win over Brazil before recording a slightly fortuitous 2-0 defeat of the Japanese to seal their progress. The Mexicans will be relying on their defensive organisation and capacity to react in time to extend their run.
The two casualties from the group were Brazil and Japan. The South Americans showed plenty of individual class but paid dearly for defensive errors at key moments, while the Asians failed to translate their delightful midfield play into goals and points.
Moments to savour
As well as fulfilling the role of Switzerland's midfield leader, Kasami also had the honour of scoring the very first goal of the tournament: a deliciously flighted free-kick against the Mexicans. His ecstatic celebration in front of one of the pitchside TV cameras was almost as memorable as the goal itself.
Anything Pele can do I can do better
In scoring his side's second against Japan, young Brazilian striker Neymar produced an amazing piece of trickery that recalled Pele's memorable near-miss against Uruguay in the semi-finals at the 1970 FIFA World Cup Mexico™. Played in by team-mate Coutinho, he flicked the ball to one side of keeper Jun Kamita and ran round the other before beating the Japanese defenders to the chase to slot home.
Though they failed to collect a single point, Japan can at least console themselves with the praise they received from opponents, reporters and local fans for their delightful attacking play. The warm ovations Yutaka Ikeuchi's youngsters received from the stands were richly merited.
"We can't play football like Brazil. We know that very well. Switzerland have to approach every game as if it were their last and try and make the difference by showing a lot of commitment and organisation. That's our strength and that's what we'll be banking on to keep progressing." Switzerland coach Dany Ryser