THE SEMI-FINALS REPLAYED - Right from the word go, the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005 has been something of a striker's paradise, with the 31 goals scored in eight matches on the opening day setting the tone. And, despite often being very tight affairs at any level, the semi-finals continued the trend as 11 more strikes were added to the tally. As a result, the total currently stands at 105 goals in all, for an average of 3.5 per game - the third highest in the competition's history. But the real surprises were the results themselves, with Mexico demolishing the Netherlands while Brazil edged out Turkey in a classic of epic proportions.
In Chiclayo, the Mexicans owed a slight debt of thanks to lady luck for the injury that saw Dutch defender Mike Van der Kooij hobble out of the action with only four minutes on the clock. Whether that qualifies as a turning-point or not is debatable, though, as the South American side then brushed aside their opponents with total ease. And although we must render homage unto Cesar Villaluz for his two goals and the questions he posed on the right flank, the man of the match for Mexico was, as expected, Giovani Dos Santos.
The FC Barcelona playmaker is the youngest tricolore in the team, but he came up trumps again with two assists and a general reading of the game worthy of very fine players much further along in their careers. Incredibly, his father Zizinho believes that Jonathan, two years Giovani's junior, could be even better than his brother. That remains a question for the future, but back in the present Mexico can now start looking forward to their first ever FIFA U-17 World Championship final. Needless to say, the youngsters have caught the imagination of a buoyant public back home.
For their part, the Dutch were by no means hard done by in terms of the outcome, yet they were unable to field their best defence and were let down by some conspicuously poor finishing up front. They had no answers to the Mexican onslaught, but they will be determined to pick themselves up for the match for third place. After all, it pits them against Turkey, the team that beat them to the title at the last European Championship.
One half for each team
The reason the Turks will be there is because they were torn to shreds by Brazil in the first-half of their semi-final in Trujillo. Having impressed observers by making everything look so easy in previous rounds, Abdullah Avci's charges set out as slight favourites against a Brazil side who had struggled to find any kind of rhythm. But the key to any Auriverde side is finding top gear at the right time, and their U-17 side did precisely that after merely 13 seconds when Celso got his name on the scoresheet. It was a remarkable feat considering that only five matches in the history of the FIFA U-17 World Championship have ever seen a goal scored inside the first minute.
Naturally, the Turks were thrown completely off balance and that left them painfully vulnerable to further raids from the world champions. It was a fatal weakness and Anderson made them pay just before the half-hour mark as he finished off a superb slaloming run through the European side's defence. It was also the 100th goal of the tournament, and goal number 101 duly followed when Marcelo made the most of good work from Volkan Babacan before the half-time whistle.
Erkan Ferin then received his marching orders right after the break, but that merely served to galvanise the Turks' resolve. Indeed, the match suddenly exploded into life as the ten men of Turkey netted three times in 30 minutes, with Nuri Sahin stunning the crowd with a particularly inspired effort. Just as extra-time seemed inevitable, though, Anderson wriggled free to serve Igor who struck the winner in the very last minute. It may be little consolation for the crestfallen losers, but Caner Erkin and Tevfik Kose currently sit at the top of the goalscoring charts with four goals (along with Brazil's Ramon) and can still hope to leave Peru with the Adidas Golden Boot.
Meanwhile, the Brazilians will be heading to the final to defend their crown. And having won three titles in the last four editions of the competition, they have a CV that would strike fear into the heart of any team. Sunday's showpiece match will also be their fifth final in all, but they will not be too wrapped up in past glories. The current team are a frightening proposition all by themselves, and with 16 goals from five matches they will be confident they have the firepower to finish the job.
In general terms, the Europeans were the clear losers in the Peru 2005 semi-finals, just as they were at the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005. In that tournament, the sides from the Old Continent looked in good shape in the quarter-finals, where they boasted four representatives, only to fall spectacularly by the wayside in the very next round. Could it be that Europe has lost its winning mentality?