Spain confirmed everyone's expectations in the first phase of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009, coming out on top in Group B with maximum points. More surprisingly, title contenders Nigeria only squeezed through in third place, with section revelations Venezuela outperforming them to take second.
The tale of the teams
Spain: Far and away the best side in the group. Slick up front, thanks in no small part to the in-form trio of Fran Merida, Daniel Parejo and Aaron Niguez, the Spaniards were also resolute at the back. Blessed with a strong squad, they also have plenty of cover for the latter stages.
Venezuela: One of the revelations of the tournament so far. The stylish Vinotinto pack a punch up front, and though they fell to Spain, their shock defeat of Nigeria and the eight-goal romp against Tahiti suggest they have plenty more to offer at Egypt 2009.
Nigeria: An African enigma. Defensive lapses cost the Nigerians dear as did a failure to convert their chances at the other end, shortcomings that very nearly spelt their demise. The potential is definitely there but can they maximise it in time?
Tahiti: Novices in every respect. The Polynesians' attempt to play a neat, tactically disciplined game was undone by some naive defending. Harsh as it was, the experience should stand them in good stead for the future.
Moments to savour
Iberian perfection: Spain barely put a foot wrong during the group phase, winning their three games without even conceding a goal.
Two trebles: Venezuela's strike duo of Yonathan Del Valle and Jose Rondon made FIFA U-20 World Cup finals history when they helped themselves to hat-tricks against Tahiti, becoming the first team-mates to achieve the feat in the competition.
A landmark: Daniel Adejo scored the tournament's 1,800th goal when he put Nigeria 5-0 ahead against the unfortunate Tahitians.
A steep learning curve: In conceding 21 times in their three group games, the Oceania side set an unwanted tournament record.
Venezuelan passion: La Vinotinto's loyal band of 400 fans brought a splash of colour and a party atmosphere to the stands, winning them plenty of admirers.
The numbers game
27 - The number of goals scored in Group B, the second-highest total in the competition's history along with Group C at Netherlands 2005, a section in which Spain also featured, alongside Morocco, Chile and Honduras. The highest tally of all is the 30 goals that Brazil, France, Korea Republic and South Africa amassed in Group B at Malaysia 1997, 15 of them coming from the South Americans.
The closing remarks
"The level at this World Cup is very high. The pace is much quicker than we're used to and if you make a mistake, it gets punished. We are a small nation and we are still a very long way behind the world elite. This has been a very important lesson for the future of Tahitian football." Lionel Charbonnier, Tahiti coach.