While top-spot in Group D was claimed by Turkey in emphatic fashion, the jostling among the other nations made for absorbing viewing for the passionate supporters of Enugu. Ultimately Burkina Faso claimed second and New Zealand squeezed into third with the Oceania champions recording a historic qualification to the knockout stage. Costa Rica finished bottom and although they caused their opponents headaches at times, Young Los Ticos will return home cursing their luck.
Turkey-United Arab Emirates, Enugu, Wednesday 4 November, 19:00 (local time)
Spain-Burkina Faso, Kano, Thursday 5 November, 16:00 (local time)
Nigeria-New Zealand, Abuja, Thursday 5 November, 19:00 (local time)
The tale of the teams
But for a remarkable long-range injury-time goal from New Zealand in the final group fixture, the Turks would have concluded the group stage as one of only three teams with a 100 per cent record. The opening game against Burkina Faso was predicted to be the crucial match-up of the group and so it proved. An early goal from the Turks was the difference, and while the African side made for an extremely challenging opponent, the Europeans were deserving of the one-goal margin. Knowing the next match against Costa Rica could secure qualification; the Turks turned on the style for a 4-1 win in what was the most impressive single showing from any team in the group.
A highly inexperienced Burkina Faso side improved with every performance to finish the group in second and join the Turks as an automatic qualifier. Their 1-0 loss to Turkey was followed by a draw with New Zealand in a match that the Young Etalons completed dominated, before they finally realised their potential with a free-flowing 4-1 victory over Costa Rica.
For New Zealand, Nigeria 2009 will always go down as a watershed, being the tournament where a Kiwi side first progressed from the group stage. Displaying incredible resilience, team-work and organisation, the Oceania champions commenced with an impressive draw against Costa Rica, then claimed another point with a battling performance against Burkina Faso, before the drama of their late equaliser against Turkey confirmed their status as one of best third-place teams.
Costa Rica's tournament proved to be disappointing on the scoreboard, and after an opening draw against New Zealand in which they had the better of possession, the Young Ticos suffered against a rampant Turkey, and were then reduced to ten-men in the early stages of their defeat against Burkina Faso.
A game of two halves: It is an oft-used phrase but rarely has the reference been more suitable than the match between Burkina Faso and New Zealand. This time it was as much the weather that was the point-of-difference as it was the football. The match kicked-off in considerable heat under clear sunny skies but concluded on a wind-blown sodden pitch with the match extended by one hour 45 minutes due to the downpour and the subsequent mopping-up operations. The African side were dominating at the time the heavens opened though only with one goal to show for the efforts. A few minutes after the downpour commenced the New Zealanders, no doubt pleased to be experiencing more familiar conditions, duly equalised, and the game had a completely different complexion.
One, two, three: Turkey's Round of 16 opponent, United Arab Emirates, will be well advised to be especially focussed during the third minute. The Turks taking the lead in the third minute in each of their opening two matches. Captain and go-to striker Muhammet Demir nodded in at the far post against Burkina Faso, while Omer Ali Sahiner repeated the feat against a Costa Rica team also caught out before they had settled.
Youthful exuberance: Almost immediately upon taking the Burkina Faso reins, German coach Rainer Willfeld was shorn of up to a dozen players following MRI testing. The team are one of the least experienced at Nigeria 2009, with a number of players only joining the national team within the last two months, including the tournament's youngest player, 14-year-old future-star, Bertrand Traore. Without an international fixture in that period, the Young Etalons put the disrupted preparation behind them to play with rare joy and exuberance.
16 - Playing in their 16th male or female FIFA tournament, New Zealand claimed a breakthrough achievement with qualification for the Round of 16.
"Being here at the World Cup is a success in itself. It is a new learning experience for the young players. My goal is always to teach, to prepare the players to be better players and better people." Juan Diego Samuel, Costa Rica coach.