Hosts Peru bade farewell to 'their' FIFA U-17 World Championship after a brave, but ultimately fruitless effort against Costa Rica at the newly inaugurated Max Augustin Stadium in Iquitos. The Ticos' 2-0 win puts them top of Group A and safely through to the quarter-finals.
Costa Rica's triumph made for a historic night for CONCACAF football. For only the second time in the history of the tournament, all three of the region's sides have progressed to the quarter-finals. Something will have to give now though, because tonight's win for the Ticos has set up a last-eight showdown with powerful neighbours Mexico in the balmy city of Piura. For the Peruvians, it seems the curse of the hosts has struck again. In the long 20-year history of the tournament, the home side have only made it past the group stage on three occasions.
"I'm sad and disappointed with this defeat, which we were half expecting. That said, I want to make it clear that I'm anything but disappointed with my boys. They put in a tremendous effort, but just didn't make it," said a resigned Peru coach José Pavóni after the match.
Home fans give huge support
Getting their first taste of world championship football, the large home crowd at Iquitos's new stadium roared on their heroes from the start. Though their fate partially depended on the outcome of the night's other Group A game between Ghana and China, the hosts knew they were in with a chance. They had Geovanny Alfaro's men pinned back in the early exchanges to the delight of the vociferous home support. Costa Rica, for their part, did their best to take the sting out of the game with their trademark short passing, but looked uncomfortable every time Josepmir Ballón and Gianfranco Espejo linked up in attack. Once again, Peru's most dangerous attacking weapon was Daniel Chávez who, first with a pair of well-struck headers, and later with a long-range effort, threatened to give the home side the lead.
As the game wore on and the Amazon heat began to take its toll, Peru were forced to reduce the tempo somewhat. In spite of that, they still managed to fashion two gilt-edged chances. First Miguel Cárdenas dragged his shot wide of the near post when one-on-one with the Tico keeper Alfonso Quesada. Then Christian Laura swung in a delightful cross from the right for Gianfranco Espejo, but the Sporting Cristal midfielder chose to try a headed pass instead of going for goal and the danger passed.
Latest photos from Peru 2005
For all of that, the Central Americans had designs of their own on the three points, and went ahead with their first clear-cut chance on the stroke of half-time. Celso Borges got in behind Cristian Ramos Garagay and picked out Jean Solórzano, who fired unerringly across Gian Franco Castellanos into the corner (1:0, 46'). For the crowd at the Max Augustin it was devastating blow and a cruel way to end the first half. "Peru showed what a good team they are and played a great game. They were unable to capitalise on the chances they made in the first half, and we grew in confidence. Fortunately, we struck just at the right time," explained Geovanny Alfaro afterwards.
Both sides ran out unchanged for the second half, and the game fell back into its early pattern. José Pavoni's men again took the initiative as they went in search of the equaliser, although clear-cut chances were at a premium. One of these fell to Jesús Rey, who very nearly got his head to a long throw-in from Laura. Geovanny Alfaro's side kept their shape though, and continued playing to their strengths with slow and careful passing, much to the frustration of the impatient and increasingly concerned Peruvian supporters who must have been fearing the worst after Carlos Flores contrived to put his header wide from just in front of goal.
Pavoni makes final gamble
In one last throw of the dice, Pavoni sent on strikers Carlos Elías and Javier Carnero, but far from having the desired effect, it merely served to enhance the reputation of Costa Rica's stand-out defenders Rudy Dawson and Brayan Jiménez. For their part, the Ticos came close with a Borges effort, which drew a wonderful save from Castellanos and deserved applause from the public. Peru hit back through Espejo, but his powerful right-foot shot from a free-kick went narrowly wide.
Alfaro then threw César Elizondo, Costa Rica's star player in the qualifying tournament, into the fray and the move paid immediate dividends. After a mix up in the Peruvian defence, the striker found himself face-to-face with Castellanos, who he beat coolly with a shot inside the near post (2:0, 76'). After that there was no way back for Peru, whose evening was summed up when Carnero struck a post late on. Appreciative of their brave efforts, the Peruvian public proudly cheered off their fallen heroes as they bade farewell to their dreams of glory.
Alfaro, who said he was "proud to have qualified against the hosts", took time to salute the Iquitos public, saying: "They could not have been a better crowd despite witnessing their team's elimination. We didn't have a single problem with them and that's very noteworthy."