Group E of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 produced one of the tournament favourites in Colombia, while Syria and Italy both created headlines with their qualification for the second round.
1 - Colombia, 9 points
They won the South American championship in style, so nobody should have been surprised to see Colombia emerge as one of the Fifa World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 favourites after just one game. Eduardo Lara's team has skill in abundance and after despatching Italy, then Canada and Syria by the same 2-0 scoreline, the Colombians have every right to be supremely confident.
There are stars all over the pitch for Colombia, from Libis Arenas in goal, to captain Abel Aguilar directing traffic in the middle, Juan Zuniga performing like a magician on the right, up to attackers Wason Renteria and Dayro Moreno terrorising defences. Even on the bench, they exude quality, notably Fredy Guarin, who twice scored from distance in Group E after starting the match on the bench. If they have a weakness, Colombia are quick to prove they possess greater ability than their opponents, but are very slow at breaking them down. Colombia have not scored in the first hour of any of their matches at Netherlands 2005.
2 - Syria, 4 points
The surprise package of Group E, Syria have gelled into a great team unit under the direction of Serbian coach Milosav Radenovic and finishing in second place was perhaps a shock to everyone, apart from the Syrians. They announced themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the second minute of their opening clash with Canada as Majed al Haj scored with a header and, after battling hard against the Canadians for a 1-1 draw, the best was yet to come.
Syria showed no fear against Italy and rightly so, with strikes by Abd Alhousain and Mohammad al Hamwi putting them into a 2-0 lead which they just about managed to protect in a famous 2-1 victory - Syria's first over Italy at any level of international football. They have speed, they have heart and they have self-belief. Radenovic says greater creativity and more attractive football can be expected from Syria, though against Colombia, they did seem to have come up against an opponent that was too good to allow that freedom to express itself.
3 - Italy, 3 points
Paolo Berrettini is quick to point out he only had four days to work with his players before the start of the tournament following the lengthy Italian season. Denied several key players through injury and a lack of availability, Berrettini was immediately up against it at Netherlands 2005 and he experimented with various formations until he was able to come up with the solution that worked best for his team.
Defeats against Colombia and Syria left Italy facing the exit door and Berrettini was so distressed after the Syrian loss he did not immediately realise Italy still had a chance of second round qualification. He thought the dream was over, but against Canada, Italy produced what dreams are made of… free-flowing football and a last-minute strike in a 4-1 victory that sent the Azzurrini into the last 16. Incredible stuff, not least from two-goal Graziano Pelle, who shook off the lethargy of earlier outings to produce a match-winning performance. Daniele Galloppa's overheard kick also had the fans purring and from being rock bottom and with seemingly nothing to play for, Italy now stand on the brink of producing one of the great turn-arounds in FIFA World Youth Championship history.
4 - Canada, 1 point
Canada coach Dale Mitchell led his team all the way to the quarter-finals at UAE 2003, but he was under no illusions that the Canadians faced a tall order in reproducing that fantastic championship run… and the order ultimately proved too tall. Mitchell's game-plan was to get three points on the board quickly and try to build confidence and momentum within the team, but when Syria held firm for a draw in the opener, Canada were left with too much to do against Colombia and Italy.
Three points against the Italians would have been enough to keep the Canucks alive and though Mitchell went for it by taking the game to Italy, they paid a hefty price in a 4-1 defeat. Mitchell will still be around when Canada hosts the FIFA World Youth Championship in 2007, as will what he calls his "nucleus of great leaders" in Jaime Peters, Will Johnson and David Edgar, though Nik Ledgerwood - Mitchell's pick of the bunch at Netherlands 2005 - will be ineligible through age. The coach has vowed to work hard to make Canada a force to be reckoned with when they get on home turf in two years' time.