Group C: Surprises aplenty

Of the four sections at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010, Group C was the most open of the lot, with all four teams in with a chance of advancing going into the final round of games. In the end it was Mexico and Nigeria who came through, with the much-fancied duo of Japan and England making an early exit. Elimination was particularly harsh on the Japanese, who seemed set to progress until the Mexicans grabbed a late equaliser against Nigeria to win the pool and reach the last eight for the first time in their history.

Final standings
1. Mexico (5 pts)
2. Nigeria (5)
3. Japan (4)
4. England (1)

The next fixtures
Mexico-Korea Republic, Sunday 25 July, Dresden, 18.30 (local time)
USA-Nigeria, Sunday 25 July, Augsburg, 11.30 (local time)

A look back
UEFA European Under-19 champions in 2009 and runners-up in 2010, England had been tipped by many to occupy one of the top two places along with Asian champions Japan. In the very first round of games, however, outsiders Nigeria and Mexico showed they would be no pushovers, with the Falconets deserving more than a 1-1 draw against the English and Las Aztecas sharing six goals with the Japanese, who had to fight back from a 3-1 deficit.

Those early impressions were confirmed in the second matches. Nigeria struck twice early on to beat the Youth Nadeshiko 2-1, while Mexico dug deep on a rainy day in Augsburg to edge England out 1-0. A draw in their final game would take both sides through. At one stage it looked as if the Mexicans might miss out, trailing as they were to Nigeria with just minutes to go and with Japan firmly in command against England. Yet, Alina Garciamendez’s late goal was all the CONCACAF side needed to check into the quarter-finals for the first time and leave the Japanese cursing their luck.

Memorable moments
Mana’s efforts in vain: After making her name at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup New Zealand 2008, where she won the adidas Golden Ball, Japan striker Mana Iwabuchi did everything she could to take the Youth Nadeshiko into the knockout rounds at Germany 2010. Setting up one goal and scoring another against Mexico, she was on the scoresheet once more in Japan’s second outing against Nigeria, though it was not enough to extend her side’s stay.

Well worth the wait: Saturday 17 July 2010 is a day that Mexico’s players will long remember. Without a win in the competition since defeating Switzerland 4-2 at Russia 2006, Las Aztecas were finally celebrating again after downing England 1-0 on a damp day in Augsburg, a result that set them on the way to winning the group.

Dancing Nigerians strut their stuff: Nigeria have gone from strength to strength since drawing with England in their opening match. The Africans brushed Japan aside with some fast and direct football and then came within minutes of seeing off Mexico. The goals the Falconets have scored en route to the last eight have all been enthusiastically celebrated by the players, whose spontaneous post-goal dancing also had coach Ndem Egan shuffling his feet in the technical area.

The group in numbers
4 -
Both qualifiers from the group have good reason for looking upon four as a key number. Mexico have reached the knockout rounds of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup for the first time in four attempts, while Nigeria have been there four times before without having yet reached the semis.

The quote
“We are very happy at making the quarter-finals, even if there are quite a few things we have to sort out. My team is coming on nicely. They’ve already learned a lot and they’re going to carry on learning,” Roberto Medina, Mexico coach.