For the army of Egyptian football fans, Group A at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 was the most eagerly-awaited of the lot, for understandable reasons: the section included the hosts, testing their mettle against top-notch opposition in the shape of Paraguay and Italy. Trinidad and Tobago filled the underdog role in the group, which more than lived up to expectations with entertaining games and thrilling tension right to the very end.
Paraguay-Korea Republic, Cairo, Monday 5 October, 20:00 (local time)
Egypt-Costa Rica, Cairo, Tuesday 6 October, 20:00 (local time)
Spain-Italy, Cairo, Monday 5 October, 16:30 (local time)
The tale of the teams
Egypt: For all the support of the passionate and noisy home crowd, the hosts were always under pressure due to the weight of expectation coursing through the nation. The young Egyptians coped admirably and opened their campaign with a convincing win over Trinidad and Tobago. However, a desperately unlucky last-gasp defeat to Paraguay meant they could not afford to lose their final game against Italy. Egypt eventually won a memorable match 4-2 and ended up progressing to the last 16 as group winners.
Paraguay: Much was expected of the South American championship runners-up beforehand, and they lived up to their billing once play got underway. After a goalless stalemate against Italy, Paraguay showed a touch of class against Egypt and won 2-1, despite playing with ten men for an hour. The win guaranteed the Paraguayans a place in the next stage. In their final group fixture against Trinidad and Tobago, the South Americans opted to rest a clutch of key players and were held to a draw, thus missing out on winning the section.
Italy: The Italians, who were runners-up at the European championships, showed they have the ability to keep pace with the best in the world at this age group. A draw with Paraguay and a hard-earned victory over Trinidad and Tobago meant Gli Azzurrini were sure of a berth in the Round of 16 after their first two matches. Despite a truly intimidating atmosphere for their final fixture against Egypt, the Italians showed character and twice came from behind to level, but were ultimately forced to accept a brave defeat.
Trinidad and Tobago: The young Soca Warriors were always an outside bet in such a strong group, but three commendable displays earned them a healthy portion of respect. They also generated two entries for the record books: they scored their first ever goal at a FIFA U-20 World Cup, and earned their first ever point in the goalless draw with Paraguay. However, it was a long way short of earning a place in the next round.
Moments to savour
Historic strike: When midfield dynamo Jean Luc Rochford scored in the opening match to bring Trinidad and Tobago level with hosts Egypt, it was the island nation's maiden goal at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. The men from the Caribbean celebrated in appropriate fashion.
Last-minute drama: Needing only a draw to qualify for the last sixteen, Egypt were a man up against Paraguay with the score 1-1 and the game already moving into stoppage time. However, Aldo Paniagua fired a last-gasp winner for the South Americans, sending them through to the next stage, and the Egyptian fans into a state of anguished shock.
Tide of emotion: The local fans flocked to the stadiums in their thousands upon thousands, turning their team's matches into vibrant and colourful festivals. The players were visibly inspired by the frenzied support emanating from the stands.
Spectacular opening: The memorable opening ceremony at the Egyptian Army Stadium provided the perfect overture to the tournament. Watched by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a stunning audio-visual show and a breathtaking fireworks display launched the event in style.
The numbers game
5 - Egypt are only the fifth FIFA U-20 World Cup host nation to complete the first round as group winners, a feat previously achieved by the USSR (1985), Portugal (1991), Argentina (2001) and Netherlands (2005).
The closing remarks
"I want to thank the spectators for their fantastic support. The atmosphere was just incredible. With the crowd behind us, we could go a long way," Miroslav Soukup, Egypt coach.