The first round of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 brought goals and emotions aplenty as several sides showcased their title credentials. Among them are the high-scoring Nigerians, a solid Uruguay side that controlled their group, and Argentina, who also topped their section and have improved as the tournament has gone on. Morocco also find themselves in the mix after winning their group with some emphatic and uninhibited play.
There is no shortage of interesting match-ups in the Round of 16, such as Nigeria versus Iran, and the meeting between Morocco and Côte d’Ivoire. Equally appealing are the fixtures involving the South American teams: Uruguay against Slovakia and Argentina versus Tunisia.
29 October – Round of 16
Uruguay-Slovakia (Ras Al-Khaimah, Emirates Stadium, 17:00)
Morocco-Côte d’Ivoire (Fujairah, Fujairah Stadium, 17:00)
Argentina-Tunisia (Dubai, Sheikh Rashid Stadium, 20:00)
Nigeria-Iran (Al Ain, Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium, 20:00)
Slovakia will be without two of their squad for the second-round openers. Lukas Haraslin has picked up two yellow cards and Jakub Gric was sent off in his side’s last match.
Match of the day
Based on the evidence so far at UAE 2013, this looks set to be genuine clash of styles. Nigeria, with 14 goals to their name, were the second-highest scorers in the opening phase when they topped Group F with the help of notable performances from the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, Musa Yahaya and Success Isaac. The team’s outstanding play and firepower has seen the west Africans emerge as one of the biggest stories of this competition so far. Iran, meanwhile, have shown balance and defensive solidity with a group of very composed youngsters. Although they finished second in their section and have only scored three goals, one of those – Mostafa Hashemi’s against Argentina – is among the finest seen so far. Other features of Team Melli’s performances here have been the patience with which they build their probing attacks and how hard their rearguard has been to break down.
Uruguay will not be short on confidence ahead of their clash with Slovakia. The South Americans showed great conviction in coming from behind to beat Italy in their final Group B encounter to ensure they finished top. La Celeste, who won more points in this group stage than en route to finishing runners-up in 2011, are one of the eight unbeaten sides in the tournament.
Elsewhere, Slovakia recovered from an opening-day rout at the hands of Brazil to put in two good performances. The European side are in buoyant mood ahead of the knockout phase and eager to make history in what is their first appearance in the competition since independence.
Just as impressive have been Group C winners Morocco. Boasting pacy and menacing forwards, not to mention vociferous support from their numerous fans, Morocco are keen to go as far as possible in their maiden appearance at this event. Standing in their way, however, is an in-form Côte d’Ivoire side. Having lost by a single goal to Italy, the west Africans were on the verge of beating Uruguay until the South Americans levelled late in that match. They boast technically gifted players with a strong physical presence and also have recent history on their side, having defeated Morocco 2-1 in Casablanca last April during the continental qualifiers.
Argentina certainly have momentum on their side, having followed up their opening draw with back-to-back victories to win Group E. An organised unit with a fine goalkeeper and dangerous players like Sebastian Driussi, Matias Sanchez and Leonardo Suarez, the South Americans are sure to ask questions of Tunisia. Second in Group D, the north Africans have played well in this competition and went toe to toe with Japan, only losing by a single goal.
Player to watch
Kevin Mendez (Uruguay)
With a goal and two assists in his 146 minutes played, the Celeste midfielder has shown he is one of the most adaptable and complete players in this competition. With excellent vision, a strong shot and an unselfish nature, Mendez is a key cog in the attacking system for the South American side, the tournament’s third-highest scorers so far with 10 goals.
8 – The number of goals conceded by Slovakia in the first round, more than any other side left in the last 16 of this competition.
"We played Tunisia in a friendly in Marbella. I have also watched them. The game they lost to Japan a few days ago was all but won but went against them in the end. We are up against a difficult team with a great coach. Of all the matches in the second round, for me ours is the hardest,” Argentina coach Humberto Grondona.