As the opening games in Group A of the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005 draw ever nearer, the four teams are beginning to feel the pressure. China and Costa Rica are the first to cross swords when they meet on Friday 16 September in Trujillo at 17.00 local time, with hosts Peru taking on one of the tournament favourites in Ghana at 20.00 at a completely sold-out Manische stadium. Each of the protagonists will be looking for a winning start to lay the foundations for progress to the next round. FIFA.com casts an eye over the four teams.
Peru versus Ghana: Fans out to cheer hosts to success
Statistics matter little to Peru's Argentinean coach José Pavoni when it comes to making a perfect start against two-time tournament winners Ghana. The hosts have only made a winning starts on three occasions in the 20-year history of the FIFA U-17 World Championship. "We are going into the game with high hopes. My players have prepared very well physically, technically and tactically. We are playing a physically strong team, which will suit us. The "Black Starlets" are dangerous and very fast on the break," Pavoni told FIFA.com ahead of the clash with the African Championship finalists. One thing Peru can be certain of is the support of the crowd. The opener is already assured of a 25,000 Peruvian crowd who will be roaring on their team with a passion.
The African camp are eager to start their campaign and will be out to show Peru that their defeat to Gambia in the final of the U-17 African Championship was a freak occurrence. Ghana have prepared for the challenges that lie ahead with four friendlies in Brazil (three victories and one draw). "The games in Brazil were important for some players in particular who had never played at this level. We played against very good teams and it was a matter of seeing where we stand," Ghana coach David Duncan told FIFA.com.
Ghana full of confidence
The African's have lifted this trophy twice before and enter the tournament full of confidence. "I like what I see. I think we have the quality to win the tournament. We are up to any challenge the game can throw at us," Duncan claimed. A final training camp to fine-tune the players for the tournament underlined the strengths of the team. The physically stronger players showed nothing less than complete commitment as they fizzed the ball around their ranks. The sessions also served to illustrate the team's strength on the counter-attack which could cause a variety of problems for opponents. There was still room for improvement in front of goal in training, which Duncan attributes to an unconventional cause: "The playing surface is very different to what we are used to. We do not have this in Ghana."
However, the coach refuses to show any fear ahead of the clash with Peru. "It will definitely be difficult against Peru, but it does not really matter who we play against first. You have to take every team seriously if you are going to become champions. You never know which team will cause you the greatest problems, so you have to take each game as it comes."
Three points crucial for China's confidence
On the eve of the tournament, China coach Zhang Ning assembled his players for their morning meeting by the swimming pool of the team hotel. The Chinese national coach is all too aware that even the first group game can be decisive in the tournament. "We absolutely must win against Costa Rica. They have many talented players and the three points would give my players the necessary confidence for our next game against the hosts Peru," Zhang Ning told FIFA.com. The team prepared for the unfamiliar playing surface with two matches on artificial turf against USA and the coach is placing particular emphasis on building his players' confidence: "I encourage them to give their best. Obviously they are not very mature mentally and feel the pressure slightly." Something that Yang Yimin, vice-president of the Chinese Football Association is striving to alleviate: "The results here are secondary. We are here to accumulate international experience which is why we did not set any particular targets."
In the Costa Rican camp meanwhile, everybody is aware of the difficulty of their opening game: "We know that China have a strong team. It will be a difficult task because the Chinese players are quick and can exert a lot of pressure. However, we are prepared for this game and we will try to prevail," Costa Rica coach Geovanny Alfaro told FIFA.com. The Costa Ricans are optimistic about building on the success of previous FIFA U-17 World Championships having qualified for the last four World Championships and reached the quarter-finals of the two previous tournaments. However, the Central Americans insist they are not feeling the tension: "We will take each game at a time and go as far as we can," Alfaro claimed.