The waiting is over and the moment of truth has arrived. The recently refurbished National Stadium in Lima is the venue for the opening games in Group B of the FIFA U-17 World Championship on Friday as Uruguay take on Mexico and Turkey face Australia.
The Uruguayans, who pulled off a major shock by qualifying at the expense of Argentina and Colombia, are the only side in the group not to have won their regional qualification tournament. Friday's opponents Mexico strolled to first place in the CONCACAF group, while the Turks, making their debut in the finals, came out on top in the European qualifying tournament held in Italy. Completing the proverbial 'Group of Death' are Australia, who surprised no one when they sauntered to victory in the Oceania championship.
Uruguay and Mexico get the ball rolling
Having unexpectedly grabbed second place in South America, just behind Brazil on goal difference, Gustavo Ferrín's Uruguay side seem to have what it takes to raise even more eyebrows in Peru: good teamwork, a compact back line boasting the best defensive record in the qualifying tournament, and a highly effective forward line. "There's more to us than just a good defence, you know. We're a very well balanced side and that's the key to our game. How else could we have thrashed Ecuador, Chile and Peru in the qualifiers?" coach Ferrín told FIFA.com.
Certainly instilled with a strong team ethic, the Celestes also have a trump card up their sleeve: Elías Figueroa, their leading scorer and main target man, who is sure to turn a few heads come Friday. Describing Figueroa as "a ruthless finisher with a cool head on young shoulders," Ferrín added: "I want him to work just as hard as the rest though. Everyone has to play an equal part if we're going to do well." When asked how far his side can go, the Uruguay chief replied confidently: "There's absolutely no reason why we can't pull off something amazing and win the tournament."
Figueroa will not be the only striker looking to make his mark on Friday. Lining up against him will be Mexican sensation Giovani dos Santos, the frontman with Brazilian blood and a swagger reminiscent of the young Ronaldinho who burst onto the world scene at Egypt 1997. "Uruguay are a very strong, hard-working side, but I see Turkey as the team to beat," said the FC Barcelona player. "Our aim here is to go as far as we can and reach the semis or the final," he insisted.
This is El Tri's eighth appearance in the tournament and the side is coached this time around by Jesús Ramírez: "What are our expectations? To reach the quarter-finals first of all. Once we get there though, we'll be looking to progress," said the confident coach.
New boys Turkey face old stagers Australia
Game two in Lima should see a fascinating clash of styles between Turkey, making their first ever appearance in a FIFA U-17 World Championship, and an Australia side coached for the third time running by Ange Postecoglou.
With Abdullah Avci at the helm, the Turks will be out to make a good impression in their group opener, and although something of an unknown quantity, they are many people's tip to claim a quarter-final berth. Avci will be looking to Borussia Dortmund starlet Nuri Sahin to display his leadership qualities, the stylish playmaker having recently made history by becoming the youngest player to appear in the Bundesliga. "As I've said so many times before, there's no doubt that Nuri is a tremendously talented player. His contribution to the team will be more important than ever," the Turkish coach told FIFA.com. "We need to be disciplined and show our team spirit for 90 minutes in each game. If we can do that, I don't see why we can't become world champions," added a bullish Avci.
Turkey's first opponents are the young 'Aussies', who will be making a remarkable tenth appearance at the tournament, second only to the ever-present USA. The Oceanians steamrollered their way through qualification, scoring 38 times in five games without conceding a single goal. The moment of truth has now arrived for the Australians however, and Postecoglou's side geared up for the challenge by securing draws against Ecuador and Peru in a friendly tournament.
The former South Melbourne coach is aware of the size of the task and is keen not to underestimate the inexperienced Turks: "We've been drawn in a really tough group and Turkey have proved how strong they are by winning the European Championship. They're a very well-organised side." Postecoglou will be hoping for an improvement on the dismal showing at Finland 2003 when the Australians recorded three defeats in their three group games.