THE DAY REPLAYED – The penultimate round of group fixtures at the FIFA U–20 World Cup Colombia 2011 was a day packed with conflicting emotions. Hosts Colombia were already through to the Round of 16, but the fate of seven other teams hung on the day's results.
The afternoon set the scene with two tense and exciting matches between Portugal and New Zealand, and Cameroon and Uruguay, with each and every goal capable of impacting on the final standings. As it was, Portugal's 20th victory at a FIFA U–20 World Cup, a comfortable but ultimately narrow 1–0 success, was enough to see them safely home as group winners. Cameroon's victory over Uruguay by the same score was their first-ever win against a South American team, and also saw the Africans through to the next round as runners-up in the group. As for Uruguay, it was only their second failure to progress beyond the preliminary round in 11 appearances at the tournament.
The fever really took hold the same evening in Bogota, where hosts Colombia faced Korea Republic. President Juan Manuel Santos brought his son along to El Campin and dropped into the Colombian dressing room before kick-off. The blessing from the very top of society obviously paid off, as Columbia won 1–0 against the Asians, who now face a nerve-wracking wait to see if they make the last 16 as one of the best third-place finishers. Elsewhere, France made no mistake with a 2–0 victory over Mali to book a direct qualifying spot as the group runners-up. It was a sobering finish to a disappointing tournament for the Africans, who now pack for home without picking up a point or scoring a goal.
Goal of the day
In the clash between France and Mali in Cali, two substitutes were responsible for the best goal of the day. Alexandre Lacazette and Clement Grenier both came on in the second half and added fresh impetus to the Europeans’ efforts. Some 13 minutes after Lacazette’s introduction, he was skilfully released in the box following a neat interchange with Grenier. The 20-year-old Olympique Lyon striker steadied himself before blasting home to seal his side's victory.
A little help from their friends
As the day in Cartagena drew to a close with a wonderful, deep red sunset, the sun metaphorically came out for the England squad. The players were just leaving their hotel in the picturesque coastal town, when they learned they were safely through to the Round of 16 without having kicked a ball. The victories for Portugal and Cameroon mean the junior Three Lions are guaranteed to be one of the four best third-place finishers, and will be staying in Colombia at least for a few more days.
Flying the flag
It is not every day that Cameroon make it to the last 16 at a FIFA World Cup, so the U-20 team's frenetic celebrations were entirely understandable. Following their victory over Uruguay in Bogota, striker Christ Mbondi and defender Amboise Oyongo joyously ran the length of the field with a huge Cameroon flag fluttering behind them.
Colombia is a fascinating and diverse nation, with climatic conditions as varied as the country itself. The teams taking to the field for the afternoon kick-off in Cali battled away in oppressive humidity and temperatures of around 30 degrees Celcius, but a couple of thousand kilometres to the north, Colombia striker Jose Valencia was moved to wear gloves due to the evening chill in Bogota.
Wherever you go, and whoever you talk to at the tournament, one constant is the teams’ praise and thanks to the Colombian fans. After the meeting with Portugal, the New Zealand players expressed their collective gratitude by remaining out on the field and lapping the stadium with a banner bearing the message “Thank you Cali". The Kiwis played all three of their matches in the city and were made to feel totally at home, but should they progress to the last 16, they will be forced to move elsewhere. Whatever happens, an emotional moment in Cali will not be forgotten for a very long time.
2 – Portugal scored just two goals but still finished top of Group B on seven points, a feat matching the efficiency of USA (2005), Burkina Faso (2003) and a previous Portuguese generation (1989).
The final line-up for the Round of 16 now depends on Saturday’s last round of matches in the two remaining sections. The results will also determine the fates of the teams who end up finishing third in their groups, so New Zealand (two points) and Korea (three points) will be keeping an anxious eye on events in Pereira, Armenia and Manizales. In Group C, Ecuador play Costa Rica and Australia meet Spain. In Group D, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria contest top spot, with Croatia and Guatemala fighting over a place in the next round.
Have your say
With the fixtures now completed in four of the groups, Columbia are the only team to finish on a maximum nine points. Are the hosts, roared on by the fans and making the most of home advantage, now among the favourites for the trophy? Click 'Add your comment' and let everyone know your opinion, remembering to keep your posts clean, respectful, on-topic and in English.