The second round of matches in Group C of the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005 gets underway in Chiclayo on 20 September, and the stakes could hardly be more contrasted in the two matches. At the top of the table, Italy and the USA will be locking horns for a place in the quarterfinals after both recorded victories on the opening day, while the two losers, Côte d'Ivoire and Korea DPR, know that another defeat will end their hopes of progress. We preview the action as the teams gear up for yet more drama.
Italy-USA: a physical clash for a place in the last eight
The two most physical sides in Group C face off on Tuesday and the reward for the victor is not only top spot in the section but also a guaranteed berth in the quarterfinals. The encounter ought to be extremely tight, with the muscular giants of Italy in one corner and the impeccably-prepared Americans in the other, and the coaches of both teams know they must raise their game considerably if they are to come away with all three points. "We need to play better than we did against the Koreans," explains John Hackworth, while his counterpart Francesco Rocca has no illusions about the task at hand. "We alternated between the good and the not-so-good against the Ivorians. But whatever way you look at it, this is a very physical group and I know we're going to be under pressure again against the Americans."
Hackworth should have a full-strength squad to pick from, and he will be crossing his fingers for a return to form from Quavas Kirk, a player of whom great things were expected before the tournament began: " Quavas wasn't his usual self against the Koreans. He's just back from injury, but I'm sure he'll get better and better." For now, lips are sealed in both camps as to the tactics being drawn up to gain that all-important edge, but everyone is adamant their team must put in an improved display. "We had a lot of problems in defence against the Koreans and we can't allow the Italians the same chances," insists Preston Zimmerman. The noises coming from the Italian camp are very similar, with Salvatore Foti leading the chorus: "We absolutely must concentrate more in defence. We conceded three goals against the Ivorians, and that's not normal." The Europeans are nonetheless teeming with confidence, and Christian Tiboni can hardly wait for the challenge: "We can win this. I promise you with 100% faith."
There is at least one cloud on the horizon for Italy, though, in the shape of Andrea Russotto. Substituted after having been brought on at half-time in the opening game, the playmaker made his anger obvious for all to see and it is difficult to predict what Rocca will do. The Italian coach is not letting on, of course, so everyone will have to wait for kick-off to judge his response. Lastly, the Americans will have an added motivation after the Italians knocked their U-20 side out of the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Youth Championship in the Netherlands earlier this year. "It's a match they should have won," says Bryant Rueckner. "It was a bit frustrating, but we're good enough to beat them this time, and that feeling of revenge will definitely be driving us on."
Côte d'Ivoire-Korea DPR: facing elimination already
With four teams per group, losing the first game makes it imperative to pull out all the stops in the second. That is the situation facing both the Ivorians and the Koreans, who already stand on the brink of elimination. Nonetheless both sides drew positives from their opening encounters. "I learnt a lot in the first match, that's what's important," sums up Korea DPR midfielder Jin Kuk Kim, without doubt his team's most effective performer against the USA. "I think we could have won, but we were tired. The time difference between here and Korea is enormous and we had trouble getting used to it. We really wanted to give everything we had, but our bodies weren't up to it. It was that simple."
Ivorian coach François Bohé was also encouraged by his charges' display, despite coming out of their opening match empty-ended: "Not everyone scores three goals against Italy. That's good. I really appreciated how my players conducted themselves and I was particularly pleased with the performances of Koffi Kouassi, Alassane Diomandé and Serge Kouadio. They were all excellent at the front of our attack."
The African tactician nonetheless anticipates a few problems in midfield. "At the end of the game, we lost balls we shouldn't have lost and we got punished," he explains, no doubt pinpointing the moment when tireless ball-winner Martial Yao was forced to leave the pitch as the moment their troubles began. Crucially, it looks unlikely that the player dubbed 'Makelele' will be fit in time to face the Koreans.
Despite getting their campaigns off on the wrong foot, however, both teams will be supremely motivated to continue their adventure as long as possible. After all, they will have been telling themselves that the competition has hardly begun. "We don't have any choice and in any case we want to do this: we're going to beat Côte d'Ivoire, I guarantee it," says Kim. "They're excellent technical players and very athletic too, but I think their weakness is in defence."
"There are no more calculations to make," counters Bohé. "Now, it's about enjoying football, and that's what I'll be telling my players. "We played well in the first match, but we lacked a bit of luck. We're a long way from being eliminated and we'll be giving it our all." The Baby Elephants have at least one statistic on their side: they have met Asian sides twice before at U-17 level, winning one game and drawing the other.