THE DAY REPLAYED – Defending champions Mexico and tournament newcomers Sweden won through to the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE on an action-packed Friday afternoon. Los Aztecas saw off Brazil on penalties after their tie ended in stalemate at 1-1, while the Scandinavians came from behind to beat Honduras 2-1.
At the end of a tight game in which both goals came in the final ten minutes, the Mexicans got the better of the Brazilians, not for the first time in the history of the competition, holding their nerve in an electrifying, tournament-record penalty shootout that served up plenty of incident.
The day’s opening quarter-final was not short on drama either as first-timers Sweden staged a second-half fightback to edge out Los Catrachos. Led by their flamboyant front man Valmir Berisha, the Europeans showed their character and produced plenty of good, flowing football too.
Quarter-finals (day one)
Honduras 1–2 Sweden
Brazil 1-1 Mexico (Mexico won 11-10 on penalties)
The new Zlatan
Berisha once again served notice of his potential by scoring what must be a firm contender for goal of the tournament, capping his side’s comeback with a back-heel flick that compatriot Zlatan Ibrahimovic would have been proud of. The classy teenage front man showed why he is compared so often to the mercurial Paris Saint-Germain striker, and not just because of his movement off the ball and skills on it. A larger-than-life personality, Berisha was his usual outspoken self after helping to see off Los Catrachos: “I knew after five minutes of the game that we would beat the Hondurans,” he said.
Swedes take flight
The organisers took everyone by surprise in the countdown to Sweden’s meeting with Honduras in Al Ain, as a huge remote-controlled plane took to the air to lay on a spectacular aerobatic display. Painted in the colours of the United Arab Emirates flag, the aircraft entertained the fans royally as it looped the loop and swooped around the stadium. The high-flying Swedes then staged a superb show of their own in the second half, making a little piece of history as they touched down in the semi-finals at the first attempt.
Strength in numbers
Brazil coach Alexandre Gallo had a surprise in store when his team lined up for the obligatory team photo before the start of their tie with Mexico in Dubai, sending out both substitute goalkeepers and his four remaining outfield players to pose for the photographers with the starting XI. With the four remaining members of his squad all sitting in the stand because of injury or suspension, Gallo was perhaps trying to cover up his lack of options on the bench by staging an unusual snapshot that was quickly relayed around the world.
Agony for Auro
The marathon shootout staged by Brazil and Mexico served up the kind of incident not normally seen when penalties are being taken. After converting his kick, the tenth overall, Auriverde defender Auro went down in the area clutching his right leg and complaining of cramp. Unable to move, he was attended to by medical staff on the spot before being stretchered off to receive further treatment.
Arms like tentacles
Goalkeeper Raul Gudino was Mexico’s hero of the hour in Dubai, showing exactly why he is nicknamed El Pulpo (The Octopus) by diving one way to deny Gabriel and then the other to thwart Mosquito and clinch his side’s place in the last four, this after almost keeping out Nathan’s spot-kick as well.
“Berisha has to be one of the top strikers in the tournament, as simple as that. He was tired and asked to be taken off, but I said to him: ‘No, you have to stay out there’. We had other players who were even more tired than he was, and so he stayed on,” Sweden coach Roland Larsson.
Saturday, 2 November
Argentina-Côte d’Ivoire (Sharjah, 17:00 local time)
Uruguay-Nigeria (Sharjah, 20:00 local time)