In a FIFA U-20 World Cup notable for its overall parity and even encounters, the events of Group D fit squarely into that trend. Not only did this section, like others at Turkey 2013, have everything still to play for going into the final round of games, first place in the group ended up being decided by drawing lots, while the team that began the last matchday bottom of the standings qualified for the knockout stages among the best third-placed sides.
Competition debutants Greece topped the group thanks to a key victory over Mexico and draws with Mali and Paraguay. Physical strength and clinical finishing characterised the UEFA European U-19 Championship 2012 runners-up, while Paraguay largely employed a counter-attacking style on the way to their one win and two draws. Mexico, for their part, ensured they stayed in the competition thanks to an emphatic 4-1 final-game win over Mali, whose own hopes of progression ended as a result.
There can be little doubt that the group’s most exciting game was the meeting between Mali and Mexico. El Mini-Tri went into the match with their backs against the wall, needing a resounding victory over their African opponents to stay in the tournament. Their task looked unlikely, particularly given Mali had conceded just once in their first two games, but an early strike from Los Aztecas gave them the momentum they needed – even though Mali at no point made their life easy.
Chances aplenty flowed for both sides and the second period will be remembered as one of the finest halves of Turkey 2013. When Mexico’s Jesus Escoboza scored to make it 3-1 on 69 minutes, despite losing his right boot on his charge towards the area, he and his team-mates still needed one more goal to boost their chances of making it through.
With time running out and that additional strike proving elusive, up popped Uvaldo Luna in the 86th minute to finish off a lethal counter-attack – with every player in the squad, even those on the bench, mobbing the midfielder in celebration in one of the iconic images of the first phase.
Jorge Espericueta and Jesus Corona arrived on Turkish soil as star names in El Mini-Tri, and were part of the Mexico squad that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011 on home soil. Espericueta gave ample evidence of his set-piece prowess early on thanks to a goal and a shot against the woodwork, though the latter did not begin showing all his class, elusive running and dribbling ability up front until the decisive game against Mali.
In the Paraguay camp, two players who particularly shone thanks to their speed and powerful shooting were wide-man Jorge Rojas, recently signed by Benfica, and forward Derlis Gonzalez. Greece also boasted two outstanding performers in Dimitrios Kolovos and Dimitrios Diamantakos, both of whom demonstrated a fierce shot and were notably cool in front of goal. Nor must we forget Mali attacker Bakary Nimaga, whose pace and technique caused opposing defences problems throughout their three games in Turkey.
1 – For the first time in 13 FIFA U-20 World Cup campaigns, Mexico managed to make it through to the Round of 16 despite not winning either of their opening two group games. Prior to Turkey 2013, on the four occasions that Los Aztecas did not win at least one of their first two matches – at Japan 1979, Australia 1981, Mexico 1983 and USA 2003 – they fell at the first hurdle.
Paraguay vs Iraq... Let’s go Albirroja. Guaraní claws are out in Turkey... Step by step towards our goal... Derlis Gonzalez, Paraguay forward
Paraguay vs irak .. vamos albirroja la garra guarani ruge en turkia..paso a paso para llegar al objetivo..bsns
— Derlis Gonzalez (@derlisgonzalez3) June 29, 2013