Mexico and Korea Republic cross swords in the last 16 of the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2009 on Thursday in what promises to be a delicately balanced contest. Both teams like to keep the ball on the ground and play a fast, technical game, so while the result could go either way, it should at least be an exciting spectacle for fans at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium in Bauchi. Neutrals will be hoping the sides set out to show their undoubted quality now they have reached the business end of the tournament.
After opening their campaign with a surprise 2-0 defeat to Switzerland, Mexico soon put things right by claiming the scalps of Brazil (1-0) and Japan (2-0). Although they still have problems up front, the El Tri defence looks sound, and will need to remain so against the Koreans, who had just the opposite problem to the Mexicans in the group stage.
The Taeguk Warriors were impressive with their quick, imaginative, attacking play in their three Group F matches against Uruguay, Italy and Algeria. But they also showed naivety in their own penalty area, which the Azzurrini capitalised on to score their two goals. Their overall playing style could best be compared to that of Japan, who created numerous gilt-edged chances against the young Aztecas, although failed to convert a single one.
The winner of Thursday’s match can look forward to a quarter-final against either Nigeria or New Zealand, who meet in Abuja the same day.
22 - Korea Republic last reached the second round of a FIFA U-17 World Cup 22 years ago, when they went on to make the quarter-finals at Canada 1987. In their two appearances since, in 2003 and 2007, the Taeguk Warriors have not progressed beyond the group stage.
"We achieved our goal of reaching the last 16, but we haven’t won anything yet. We definitely can’t rest on our laurels because now is the moment of truth. If we win, we're still on track, if we lose, we're going home." Victor Manon, Mexico forward
"In the group stage, we were better than Italy in terms of the quality of our play, but we didn’t score enough goals. The mood in our camp is relaxed and confident as we now prepare to take on Mexico. We’re sure that we’re strong enough to win." Kwang-Jong Lee, Korea Republic coach