Two tense and dramatic matches are guaranteed as Group A approaches a shuddering finale. Costa Rica meet Peru in Iquitos, with Ghana facing China in Piura at the same time. All four teams still entertain realistic hopes of making the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005 quarter-finals. FIFA.com previews a potentially nerve-shredding evening.
Hosts vow to banish frustration
Long after his side's bitter 1-0 defeat to China, Peru boss José Pavoni bore the expression of a man unable to believe the savage blow dealt to him by a malevolent fate. The devastated Argentine sat rooted to the spot in the lobby of the team hotel, venting his frustration to anyone within earshot until late into the night. His young charges had fundamentally done everything right against the Chinese, passing and moving with supreme fluidity and creating a plethora of clear-cut openings, but the ball refused to go in on the night: either the leather drifted a few centimetres wide, or agile keeper Wang Dalei showed astounding bravery. "It was just one of those days. We could have played for hours and failed to score," Pavoni lamented. The 51-year-old voiced concern over his players' ability to shake off the after-effects of defeat before meeting Costa Rica. "That was a total nightmare for my players. It's crushing to lose like that. I just hope they're physically and mentally capable of fulfilling their potential," he told FIFA.com. Despite it all, the hosts are still in with a chance of making the last eight. Victory by a single goal would be enough, provided China lose by at least two goals against Ghana. A Peru win by a two-goal margin would guarantee a place in the quarter-finals.
However, Costa Rica's dreams of the last eight remain well and truly alive after draws in their opening two matches. Coach Geovanny Alfaro was in upbeat mood ahead of the final group clash. "I'm basically happy with the way we've played. My players have shown plenty of character, although you have to say we could have won both matches. It's a very evenly-matched group. I'm expecting another very tough game, but we're up for it, and we still have every chance of making the quarter-finals," Alfaro told the news conference after the Ghana match.
China hold the aces, Ghana under pressure
Buoyant optimism has given way to furrowed brows in the Ghana camp following draws against Peru and Costa Rica. The Africans were rated favourites for the trophy before a ball was kicked, but have yet to match their pre-tournament billing. Ghana dominated possession against Costa Rica, but the West Africans looked worryingly short of creativity and inspiration in the first half as they vainly sought to unpick the central Americans' disciplined defence. The Africans neglected to use the flanks and carelessly tossed away the chances which came their way. For all this, their fate remains in their own hands, although coach David Duncan's youngsters must win to be certain as a draw could open up the possibility of elimination. Should both remaining Group A games end goalless or in identical scoring draws, the two-times U-17 trophy winners could exit the tournament on the basis of their poor ranking in the fair play table, where they lag behind Costa Rica after a red card in their first match. Commented Duncan: "I can't be at all satisfied with the way we've played so far. We're left having to win our next match to reach the quarter-finals. It's a very tight group. Everyone can see all the teams deserved their place here."
China lead the Group A standings on four points and are in pole position to reach the last eight. However, coach Zhang Ning's men cannot rest on their laurels, as defeat to China could see them packing for home, although a draw against the West Africans would suffice for a quarter-finals berth. "It was hard work against Peru," Zhang acknowledged after his side's eminently fortunate 1-0 victory over the hosts. The Chinese have no intention of falling back on mathematical permutations: "We'll be ready and willing ahead of our tough fixture with Ghana, and we'll play to win," the coach declared. The Chinese suffered a major blow when regular keeper Wang Dalei received his marching orders for ungentlemanly conduct after the final whistle against Peru, forcing him out of the final group fixture with suspension. Zhang remained upbeat: "It will be no problem replacing him. All my goalkeepers have a range of strengths." Chi Wenyi is set to deputise for Wang.