At Trujillo on 23rd September, the last remaining issue in Group C will be resolved, when the Italians and the Koreans lock horns to decide who goes through to the quarter-finals. Korea surely start as favourites, as a draw would be enough for the Asian outfit against an Italian side suffering from something of a selection headache after the events in Chiclayo. The Americans, meanwhile, already have their ticket tucked away, as do the Ivorians, but theirs is for a return flight home to Abidjan. Consequently, little more than honour will be at stake when the two teams meet on 23rd September in Lima.
United States seek group supremacy, Côte d'Ivoire play for pride
With the Americans qualified and Ivorians eliminated, this encounter in Lima will be somewhat devoid of significance. Undoubtedly, it will be used as an opportunity for the respective coaches to run the rule over a few fringe players. John Hackworth, however, insists he will not be taking the game lightly. "Despite being through to the next round, our job is far from done. We are going to savour our victory but we'll be getting back to work on the double to prepare for the last group match against the Ivorians."
The American technician declared himself particularly content with the performance of Nik Besagno, playing out of position in central defence. "He did a good job, was effective in the air and his positioning was excellent." Unfortunately, however, the Real Salt Lake player was forced to come off injured and is likely to be rested against the Ivorians as Hackworth gives his squad players a run-out. A further cause for satisfaction has been the form of David Arvizu, a constant thorn in the side of the Italian defence. "He was fantastic. I knew he was capable of playing that well. It's just a shame for him that he didn't score."
But the main lesson from the win over Italy was psychological, as Arvizu explains. "The Italians are a great football nation for whom we have a lot of respect. People didn't fancy our chances but now we've proved we're capable of beating the big teams. Having said that, we're not going to take the Côte d'Ivoire match lightly." If they record another victory, the Americans will finish top of the group and will play the second-placed team from Group D in their quarter-final in Trujillo. And with their likely opponents Brazil, the Netherlands or Gambia, it is sure to be a tough game.
In the Ivorian camp, the mood could scarcely be more contrasting. "We've showed great naivety and a lack of application. The competition is already over for us, which is sad," was the verdict of a disappointed but still positive François Bohé. "I can assure you that my boys will be back and in better shape at the FIFA U-17 World Championship Canada 2007." The coach also went out of his way to pay tribute to the Peruvians. "The organisation has been excellent and the Peruvian people have been very hospitable. They are friendly and cheerful like us, and it makes us even sadder to be saying goodbye early to such warm hosts…"
Italy or Korea DPR in the quarter-finals?
Trujillo should be in for at least one lively match on 23rd September, as the Koreans and Italians will be playing for the high stakes of a berth in the last eight. The Asians are in the more commanding position, for if they draw, they will go through on goal difference. But as Jo Tong Sop emphasises, they will not be adopting a negative approach: "we'll be doing everything to win, starting with a full analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents." After their impressive victory over the Ivorians (3-0), confidence is sky-high in the Korean camp. "If we play like we did against Côte d'Ivoire, I am sure we can beat the Italians," declares the team's striker, Myong Ho Choe. Presumably, they are likely to be at full strength for the clash, although the Koreans are so discreet that it is difficult to be certain about anything…
One thing beyond any doubt is that the Asian side are desperate to emulate their illustrious elders, the class of 1966, to be precise, who reached the quarter-finals of the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England to general surprise. In a possibly significant echo of the current situation, it was Italy that the Koreans beat (1-0) to finish second in their group and claim their place in the last eight… "What happened in 1966 is in our minds and we hope to emulate it," reveals the midfielder, Kuk Jin Kim.
The Italians, for their part, must first pick themselves up after defeat, for apart from now finding themselves in a difficult position, they have also been stung by the manner of the defeat. "The Americans were much better than us, that much is clear. They played a highly physical game and we couldn't cope with it. Their direct style posed us enormous problems and we couldn't keep hold of the ball in midfield," analysed Francesco Rocca after the match.
"First we have to recover physically from what was a bruising encounter. We played a good part of the game a man short and had to revert to a 3-man defence. Once we have assessed the situation, we can start preparing for the game against the Koreans. We shall see what happens, but one thing's for sure: it's do or die."
But the Italians have the added problem of having to field a weakened side. Salvatore Foti received a red card against the States and will therefore be unavailable, while his strike partner Christian Tiboni is awaiting a disciplinary decision after his involvement in the post-match rumpus. Rocca will probably have to field a completely different attacking formation against the Koreans, so the playmaker Andrea Russotto, who impressed after coming on against the Americans, could well get his chance. The same goes for Marco Dalla Costa, the natural replacement for Tiboni or Foti. Coach Rocca, who was himself ordered off the field, must also await the ruling of the disciplinary committee. Immediately after the match, he was already admitting his guilt. "I want to apologise because I haven't set a good example for my youngsters," he declared. "But on the positive side, we still created chances with 10 men and actually played better. We now have to regroup for the match against Korea, as we have no alternative but to win if we want to go through."