THE DAY REPLAYED – The final day of Groups A, B and C of the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003 was fraught with emotion, as the first teams to qualify for the last sixteen became apparent. While Burkina Faso (Group A) and Argentina (Group B) were already as good as through, Group C yielded a surprise winner in the shape of Australia, who beat erstwhile leaders Brazil to supplant them at the summit and consign the South Americans to an unaccustomed second spot. Things went true to form as Slovakia and Spain secured the runners-up berths in Groups A and B respectively. As for the United Arab Emirates, they are also guaranteed a spot in the Round of Sixteen, their tally of four points enough to ensure them a place among the four best third-placed teams. No less than five sendings-off occurred on the night, evidence that the tension was as high as the stakes being contested.
Group A: United Arab Emirates 0-0 Burkina Faso; Slovakia 1-0 Panama
In the build-up to the tournament, Jean-François Jodar had declared that his team would need to accumulate four points in order to qualify for the second round, and that is precisely the way it has panned out. The hosts’ draw with the Africans ensured that the Emirates would finish among the four best third-placed teams. UAE piled on the pressure throughout, but the athletic Burkinabe defence remained impenetrable, thereby ensuring they completed the group stages as the only table-topping team not to concede a single goal. Only Egypt, who play tomorrow, could yet rival this impressive feat. As a result of their defensive stinginess, the Africans have finished first in their group, and will therefore remain in Abu Dhabi for the next round. Tomorrow, they will learn the identity of the team that stands between them and a quarter-final berth.
After the draw between the Emirates and Burkina Faso, Slovakia knew that a point would assure them second place by virtue of goal difference, but Peter Polak’s team still beat the brave but limited Panamanians, this despite being deprived by injury of two key players in Filip Sebo and Marian Kurty. The winning goal was a solo effort by Viktor Pecovsky as the culmination to a jinking run (49’). With six points to their name, the Slovaks finish second and will face Brazil for a place in the quarter-finals. As for Panama, they return home with no points on the board, as do the Uzbeks. Sometimes it is tough being a new kid on the block…
b>Group B: Argentina 3-1 Mali; Spain 1-0 Uzbekistan
Whereas the Argentines could relax in the knowledge that their ticket for the last sixteen was in the bag, the Malians knew they needed at least a draw to have a chance of going through. However, a catastrophic first-half saw their hopes reduced to tatters. Despite being shorn of four regular starters by coach Hugo Tocalli, the Albiceleste clocked up a three-goal lead before the break. Osmar Ferreyra opened the scoring with an accomplished free kick (13’), then fed German Herrera, who doubled their advantage with a superb acrobatic volley (26’). The third goal came from a cross that was diverted by the head of Mamadou Diakité into his own goal (32’). But what showed every sign of becoming an Argentine goalfest instead turned out to be a damp squib when their keeper Gustavo Eberto saw red in the second half, simultaneously conceding a penalty that allowed the Malians to reclaim some dignity (3-1, 48’). Argentina top the group and become the only team to win all its matches, but with a price to pay; Tocalli will have no keepers on the bench for their last sixteen clash. With a tally of three points, the Malians still have an outside chance of finishing among the best third-placed teams provided, that is, a complicated sequence of results goes their way tomorrow.
After Argentina’s win over Mali, Spain were in the luxurious position of knowing they could afford to lose their last match with Uzbekistan by a single goal and still retain their second place. And yet without really exerting themselves, Armando Ufarte’s charges had the match won after as little as a quarter of an hour. Iniesta, a revelation throughout, notched the winning goal with a simple finish from just inside the box (15’). Courtesy of his strike, the Spaniards ascended to six points and will travel to Al Aïn to face the second-placed side in Group F. The Uzbeks, somewhat undeservedly, were condemned to an early flight home with no points to declare.
Group C: Brazil 2-3 Australia; Canada 1-0 Czech Republic
The spectators arriving in Dubai could have had little inkling of the spectacle about be served up by Brazil and Australia. The amazing Young Socceroos have been described their coach Ange Postecoglou as one of the brightest crops ever harvested in the country, and they proved him right, putting the mighty Brazilians to the sword. Anthony Danze scored two near-identical goals in quick succession (31’ and 36’), both following shots from Dustin Wells. The half-time break just would not come soon enough for the embattled Brazilians, and sure enough, Spase Dilevski found time to give the Australians what looked a decisive advantage (3-0, 47’). But Brazilian sides never know when they are beaten, and there was an air of inevitability about the way they proceeded to reduce the deficit, first through Juninho’s long-range strike (75’), then courtesy of Dudu’s late effort (87’). On this occasion, however, it was too little too late, as the Aussies hung onto their now slender advantage to snatch top spot with seven points. On Friday, they will discover their next opponents, while the Brazilians, who finished with four points, will face the Slovaks in the last sixteen at Sharjah.
In the wake of Brazil’s defeat by Australia, the Czech Republic absolutely had to beat Canada to claim second place. But unable to pen the Canadians back into their defensive third and reduced to 10 men early in the second half, Pavel Vrba's protégés ended up losing to their worthy adversaries. It was Iain Hume, sporting a Mohican hairdo, who bagged the glory for the CONCACAF zone team (80’), thereby finishing the tournament as his team’s sole scorer (2 goals) and securing his side’s only slice of desert delight. On 3 points, Canada now have to wait and see how results go tomorrow to find out whether they go through as one of the four best third-placed sides.