THE DAY REPLAYED - Football is a team game. Players and coaches alike will never cease insisting that "we win as a team and we lose as a team". However, from time to time it really is the individual stars who settle the outcome of a match. It used to be Diego Maradona, now it is the likes of Ronaldinho or Lionel Messi. On the second matchday in the Round of 16 at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, the honours went to Sergio Aguero. The diminutive Argentine striker turned in a dazzling display to wow the 20,000 sell-out crowd at the National Soccer Stadium in Toronto, and thrill the countless hordes watching on TV. His mazy dribbling and adroit touch on the ball provided the decisive moments in his side's triumph against Poland.
His goals served as the crowning glory on the day. After perfect interplay with Maximiliano Moralez to set up Angel Di Maria's first-half equaliser, Aguero fired his side into the lead less than 40 seconds after the restart. The goal oozed class: a lob over his marker's head, a shimmy, a shot, and the ball was in the net - a moment of near-perfection from the youthful starlet. His late second, as he deftly rounded the keeper to make the final score 3-1, was the icing on the cake of an outstanding evening for the pint-sized Argentine goal-getter.
Poland's courageous display and the opening goal of the match from Dawid Janczyk, later to receive his marching orders for a second bookable offence, paled by comparison to the Atletico Madrid youngster, whose five goals to date make him a strong candidate for the Golden Shoe - and potentially the Golden Ball.
The Toronto sun beamed down on the triumphant South Americans, but a couple of hundred miles further north in Ottawa Nigeria and Zambia re-ran their encounter from the qualifying competition in torrential rain. It was a typical meeting between African sides, a physically robust affair with energetic and pacy attacking thrusts. Nigeria ran out 2-1 winners, repeating their success from the qualifier and retaining the chance of matching - or even beating - their commendable runners-up finish in the Netherlands two years ago. Uwa Echiejile and Chukwuma Akabueze netted for the Nigerians, with Rodgers Kola having scored a first-half leveller for Zambia, who leave for home with heads held high after a thrilling run in Canada.
Zambia were not to be the only African team packing their bags on the day. After Gambia fell by the wayside against Austria on Wednesday, Congo were also eliminated in a 3-0 reverse to Mexico, muting the songs and dances of celebration which had accompanied the progress of all four African teams into the Round of 16. The Africans were unable to match their opponents from South and North America and from Europe on this occasion.
Elation for Mexico and Chile
The teams from the Americas certainly enjoyed a great day all round. Mexico, roared on by a passionate following at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, lived up to their billing as favourites with a powerful late surge to an ultimately clear-cut victory. After Giovanni Dos Santos had handed his team an early lead from the spot, the Congo collective emerged early from the dressing room for the second half and gathered in a huddle to summon up their reserves of energy and resolve for the second period. But it was not enough against the shrewd Mexicans, as Omar Esperanza and Pablo Barrera wrapped up the win shortly before the end. To rub salt into the wound, Congo finished the game with ten men when Franchel Ibara was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
The sweat poured off the brows of the Chile and Portugal players at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, where the late-afternoon sun generated temperatures of up to 37 degrees at pitch level. The heat may have been a contributory factor as the emotions boiled over, the game setting an unwanted record on the day with three red cards. Chile edged a tight encounter by the only goal of the game when Arturo Vidal struck home from close range on the stroke of half-time. The Chilean hitman's joy at striking the winner will have been tempered in stoppage time when he collected a second yellow card, although the Portuguese were already reduced to nine men by this time, as the referee brandished straight reds at both Zequinha and Mano in the 90th minute.
Saturday and Sunday's quarter-finals have thrown up a series of intriguing ties:
Next matches (all times local):
Austria - USA, 14 July, Toronto, 2.15 pm,
Spain - Czech Republic, 14 July, Edmonton, 5.45 pm
Chile - Nigeria, 15 July, Montreal, 2.15 pm
Argentina - Mexico, 15 July, Ottawa, 7.45 pm