Group A of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 saw sizzling hosts Holland turn on the style in spades, earning a perfect nine-point haul from their three matches. Consistently dazzling the capacity crowds in Kerkrade before moving on to Tilburg for their last game, the Oranje were a swirling, cultured and vibrant vision of football at its most joyful. Japan secured qualification with only three minutes to go in their last outing with home-bound Australia, while Benin's Baby Squirrels, though ever-lively and brimming with native technique, came up a bit short in a three-team tangle of two-pointers.
1. Netherlands, 9 pts
After getting their campaign underway in style with a 2-1 win over Japan, it soon became clear that the hosts' starting eleven featured more than just a few of the finals' best performers. The smashing wing-play of Arsenal gem Quincy Owusu Abeyie allied to the cool calm of captain extraordinaire Hedwiges Maduro and striking sensation Ryan Babel to pave the way for a handy 3-0 hammering of outclassed Australia before a clinical - if unspectacular - 1-0 win over Benin in Tilburg saw them through with a perfect record over their three group matches. Solid in every position and with creativity by the bucket-load, Holland - led by the experienced hands of head coach Foppe de Haan and assistant Aaron Winter - made one firm fist of a side in the group phase.
2. Japan, 2 pts
The second-place finisher with the least amount of points at these finals, Japan will count themselves quite fortunate indeed to have secured a berth in the knockout rounds. Finding it agonisingly difficult to score in their three group matches in Kerkrade, Kiyoshi Ohkuma's admittedly stylish Asians needed a lifeline goal with three minutes left from second-half substitute Shunsuke Maeda against Australia in their final match to seal second place. With towering striker Sota Hirayama roving up front, the Japanese seemed to rely too heavily on long balls and only the last of their three first-round goals came from the run of play.
3. Benin, 2 pts
Just pipped by Japan in the goals-scored column, Benin - playing in their first FIFA finals - gave more than just reasonable account of themselves. Going up 1-0 in their first two matches against Oz and Japan, their lack of big-game experience saw them surrender the lead on both occasions. Still, after two matches, they were boasting an unlikely undefeated record and putting on some fine displays of skilful football with the play of hulking striker Razak Omotoyossi, Abou Maiga and Coffi Agbessi turning more than a few heads. French boss Serge Deveze had his side working well with a combination of all-out attack and physical toughness. In the end indiscipline spelt doom for the West Africans, as a pair of foolish fouls around the box and a hard-luck red card in their second match against Japan proved their undoing. But after a tighter-than-expected 0-1 loss to high-flyers Holland in their last outing, the yellow-clad Ecurriels did themselves duly proud.
4, Australia, 2 pts
Toothless in attack, the Socceroos - though well drilled, fit and eager - were simply unable to overcome a case of big-occasion nerves. Coming from behind to draw in their first clash with Benin, they were hammered to the tune of 3-0 in their next match with the hosts. And after Ryan Townsend put them ahead against Japan in minute 75, it looked like they were set to go through in a snare-drum tight final matchday. But some elementary mistakes allowed a late goal to leave only tears for souvenirs in Ange Postecoglou's camp.