The Argentines put a cap on their Canada 2007 campaign against the same team they opened up with: the Czech Republic. But unlike their drab, scoreless draw in Ottawa, the Final in Toronto was a display of determination, skill, and the individual and tactical brilliance that only champion teams possess.
Coming back from a Martin Fenin wonder goal down, the South Americans scored twice in the second half to win 2-1. Although Mauro Zarate collected the winner in the dying minutes, it was one Sergio Aguero who brought the Albiceleste back into the game with a clever goal just seconds after conceding.
This Aguero was a bit special too. Like team-mate and good friend Lionel Messi did back in 2005 in the Netherlands, the Atletico Madrid striker swept the official awards, picking up the adidas Golden Ball for best player and golden shoe for top scorer with six goals. In winning the championship, the short, powerful and all round brilliant player became only the second in history to have played in and won two FIFA U-20 World Cup Finals.
In addition to spectacular vision and strength, Aguero possessed that irresistible and rare individual genius that can turn a match. His brace against Poland in the Round of 16 brought the Argentines back into the game after going a goal down and his free kick against Korea DPR and heroics in the Final with the Czechs will live long in the memory.
The Argentine class of 2007 will not go down as just a one-man
show though. Don't let his 160cm height fool you - Maximiliano
Moralez is a giant in the making. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero, centre
back Federico Fazio and outstanding central midfielder Ever Banega
all showed brilliantly for the Albiceleste in their glory run in
Czechs spring surprise
The Czechs, who qualified for Canada 2007 by struggling through to the semi-finals of the European Championship, were on no one's list of possible finalists at the U-20 showpiece. But with a blend of solid team tactics and lightening-fast counter-attacking the Europeans cut a swath through the competition to reach the Final. After raising eyebrows with their opening-day draw against Argentina, they slipped into the Last 16 where they eliminated Japan and then heavy favourites Spain - both on penalties.
They didn't need a shootout to beat fellow surprise act Austria in the semi-final, winning 2-0. The Final against hot favourites Argentina prove a road too far, but the brilliant play of Martin Fenin, Marek Strestik, Tomas Pekhart and Radek Petr will linger, and represents a fine future for the country's football.
Nigeria lead CAF, New World shines, Asia suffers
The Flying Eagles of Nigeria, who reached the Final in the 2005 event, arrived in Canada with low expectations and a team made up of primarily domestic-based players. But they got better with every game in the group stages and qualified for the knockout rounds (along with neighbours Gambia, Zambia and Congo), only losing out eventually to an outstanding, if somewhat undisciplined, Chilean side led by Mathias Vidangossy, Arturo Vidal and Nicolas Medina.
The 4-0 scoreline was misleading and far too hard on the Nigerians and didn't reflect their firm resistance and incredible effort.
Mexico led the charge for CONCACAF. With ten players from the U-17 team that achieved global glory at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru in 2005, the Mexicans looked good for the title and were the cream of the crop from North, Central America and the Caribbean. Better even than the free-attacking and Brazil-beating USA of Freddy Adu and Michael Bradley, Giovanni Dos Santos, Carlos Vela and Patricio Araujo were unfortunate to lose out to Argentina in their quarter-final. El Tri hung with the eventual-champions for the whole game but were beaten in the end by a slim 1-0 scoreline.
In diametric opposition to the strides made in North America and Africa, Asia sent only one team to the knockout rounds. Even then, Japan were beaten in their first second-round test by the Czechs. However, to overlook Korea Republic would be a mistake. Decidedly unlucky in the first round, the team, led by Shin Young Rok and Shim Young Sung, played some of the best and most-cohesive team football of the Canadian finals and should be remembered accordingly.
The tournament itself is noteworthy, having broken an attendance record that stood since Mexico 1983. Almost 1.2 million fans turned up across the six venues to make Canada 2007 the largest single-sport event in the country's history.
Congo, Nigeria, Gambia, Zambia, Japan, Korea DPR, Jordan, Korea Republic, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, USA, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay .
2. Czech Republic
Host stadia, cities:
The Olympic Stadium/Le Stade Olympique (Montreal), National Soccer Stadium (Toronto), Commonwealth Stadium (Edmonton), Swangard Stadium (Burnaby), Frank Clair Stadium (Ottawa), Royal Athletic Park (Victoria).
No. of goals:
128 (average/game: 2.46)
6 goals: Aguero (ARG)
5 goals: Lopez (ESP)
4 goals: Moralez (ARG), Altidore (USA)