THE DAY REPLAYED - The heavyweights did not disappoint in Emmen and Doetinchem on 22 June, as Argentina, Spain, Nigeria and the hosts Holland all progressed to the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005. The real success story belongs to Europe, though, with four of the old continent's seven representatives safely through to the last eight, after only Spain made it to the same stage in 2003. And with Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Morocco completing the line-up, this year's generation is absolutely sparkling with talent.
As Argentina prepared to face Colombia in Emmen and Nigeria geared up to meet Ukraine in Doetinchem, supporters were spoilt for choice as far as the afternoon matches were concerned. Both Round of Sixteen encounters promised fireworks, but whether it was the intense pressure or the searing heat, neither game got off to the roaring start fans might have expected. That was at least vaguely predictable with regards to the South American derby, however, given that both sides know each other all too well. They ground out a 1-1 draw in the recent South American Championship and, as if to prove the point, three out of four continental derbies have gone to extra-time in FIFA World Youth Championship history.
Only Lionel Messi really tried to up the tempo, with his phenomenal surging runs putting his lacklustre albiceleste colleagues to shame. Meanwhile, the Colombians were content to sit back and defend before trying to inflict the first blow. And that is precisely what they did when Harrison Otalvaro converted a superb through ball from Abel Aguilar at the start of the second half. Messi was not about to let that ruin his eighteenth birthday (24 June), though, and he was on hand to bring his team level six minutes later. The chances dried up again after that, and it was only in the last few minutes that either side looked like grabbing the winner.
Then the Argentinians poured forward, with Messi, Neri Cardozo and Emiliano Armenteros all having opportunities to grab the headlines. It was left to defender Julio Barroso to make the difference, and his thunderbolt of a shot in the last second of stoppage-time sent his team-mates through to the quarter-finals. For the Colombians, it was a cruel way to exit the competition, especially given their own reputation as last-gasp goalscorers in the first round.
Aliiev silenced as Taiwo pounces
In Doetinchem, the sheer contrast in styles whetted the appetite of all in attendance. Between the power of the Nigerians and the spirit of the Ukrainians, something was sure to give - especially considering that six of the European side's seven first-round goals had come in the first half, during which time the Africans had never conceded. It was the defensive might of the Flying Eagles that gained the upper hand, though, thanks in large part to Sani Kaita, who managed to keep Oleksandr Aliiev extremely quiet. And Ukraine without Aliiev are a different proposition altogether.
Cheered on by the all-singing, all-dancing fans, Samson Siasia's charges took a firm grip on the match, with Ukraine incapable of creating a threat. Leonid Musin did all he could to delay the inevitable, but there was nothing he could do to keep out Taye Taiwo's cross-shot ten minutes from the final whistle. It may have been a bizarre goal, but it counted all the same, catapulting Nigeria through to the last eight for the fourth time in their history.
In the evening games, the Dutch hosts and European champions Spain defended their status as two of the emerging favourites against Chile and Turkey respectively. And it did not take long for the Netherlands to prove their worth in front of a sea of supporters decked out in orange at the De Vijverberg stadium in Doetinchem. Just three minutes were on the clock when Ryan Babel broke the deadlock with an unstoppable piledriver launched high into the net. It was a worrying start for the Rojos, whose five previous losses to European teams at this level had seen them ship at least four goals each time.
Meanwhile, the Furia took a little longer to find their range. That was unsurprising, perhaps, given that Spain faced Turkey twice at the last European Championship and came away with slender victories on both occasions. Inaki Saez's players nonetheless dominated their rivals and finally made their superiority count when Juanfran headed in after half an hour. The Real Madrid midfielder was back to cause more damage a few minutes later, finishing off a counter-attack to prove that when the Spanish get themselves going, nothing can hold them back.
The Furia Roja strike again
Despite the Netherlands' blistering start and the raucous local support, the buzz quickly subsided in Doetinchem as the Chileans threatened to hit back from set-pieces. No doubt intimidated by the occasion, the Dutch were simply unable to put themselves in the clear. Their absolute dominance carried over into the second half, but still they failed to put the match to bed until Quincy Owusu-Abeyie at last relieved the pressure with quarter of an hour to go. As if for good measure, Collins John made absolutely sure of the result at the death, taking Foppe de Haan's side as far as they have ever been in the competition. And they are certain to want to break historic new ground as they look forward to playing Nigeria in the next round.
Spain will be looking to go far too, having controlled their match from start to finish. It was Robusté who added the third from a corner, taking the Furia Roja's goal tally to 15 since the start of the tournament. Averaging almost four strikes per game, their quarter-final against Argentina promises to be explosive!