THE DAY REPLAYED – There were few goals but high drama on the sixth and final matchday of UAE 2003’s group stage. The big winners of the day were Asia with Japan’s win against Egypt setting up a mouth-watering clash with Korea Republic in the last 16. Africa did not do badly either as Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt joined Burkina Faso in the next stage, while a win for Paraguay and a draw for Colombia completed the usual South American quartet.
In CONCACAF, a defeated Mexico joined yesterday’s losers Panama in being eliminated but the United States victory saw them through together with neighbours Canada as one of the four third-placed teams. It was a mixed day for Europe too with England and Germany bowing out with a draw and a defeat but Ireland topping Group E thanks to another win and a place in the Round of 16 alongside Spain and Slovakia.
Japan – Korea Republic (Abu Dhabi)
Burkina Faso – Canada (Abu Dhabi)
Argentina – Egypt (Dubai)
United States – Cote d’Ivoire (Dubai)
Brazil – Slovakia (Sharjah)
Australia – UAE (Sharjah)
Paraguay – Spain (Al Ain)
Republic of Ireland – Colombia (Al Ain)
17:45 kick off
Group D – Colombia 0 : 0 England
With four points before the match began and a healthy goal difference, Colombia were virtually assured of qualification to the next phase going into the match against England. But that slim, nagging possibility of elimination reflected in their play. The Cafeteros were a completely different side to that which had run the Japanese defence ragged. Despite the incessant, deafening beat of their colourful fans in the Al Maktoum stadium, the play of Reinaldo Rueda’s boys lacked rhythm with Victor Montano’s long-range strikes a fleeting source of danger.
England, meanwhile, probably played their best game of the tournament. After a first half that many in the 12,000 crowd will quickly forget, Les Reed’s young side began the second more brightly, hitting balls along the green surface rather than through the darkening sky. Needing to win, Japan to lose and other results to go their way, it was all too little too late for the young Lions. Some of their players may have run more kilometres than others in these finals but the true litmus test for any team is goals on the scoreboard and England’s 581 minutes without hitting the net in world youth finals makes for sad reading. This one, unlike Colombia’s first against Egypt, was a classic goalless draw but the generous public typified the spirit in the tournament by giving both sides a standing ovation as they bade farewell to Dubai.
Group E – Saudi Arabia 0 : 0 Cote d’Ivoire
It was almost a mirage across the desert in Al Ain. With four points, Cote d’Ivoire were in a similar position to Colombia, while Saudi Arabia, with a single point so far, needed a win to stand any chance of going through. The Saudis, with the backing of their huge support, created the better chances but could not break through the African rearguard. Naji Majrasghi was particularly prominent in the opening period while Eisa Al Mahyani hit the crossbar in the second but the Sons of the desert could not add to their two goals in the finals and will make the short trip though the dunes earlier than hoped.
Group F – Paraguay 2 : 0 Germany
With all three teams kicking off the day’s play on three points, no Group was tighter than F’s. Both teams came into the match on a high after overcoming opening defeats with fine second game victories. But while the Europeans twice hit the woodwork through Patrick Milchraum and Sebastian Kneissl, it was the South Americans who grabbed the goals through Dante Lopez and Nelson Haedo Valdez either side of half-time to complete Conmebol’s quartet in the last 16.
20:30 kick off
Group F – United States 2 : 0 Korea Republic
Group E – Ireland Republic 2 : 0 Mexico
Group D – Egypt 0 : 1 Japan
The U.S. started with the player that had scored a hat-trick against Korea in the FIFA U-17 World Championship only a few months ago. Freddy Adu, at 14 the second-youngest player in the competition’s 24-year history, began the match on the left-wing but it was centre-forward Ed Johnson who did all the damage this time, scoring both penalties as the Americans raced into a 2-0 lead within 24 minutes.
Things were now getting interesting as news flooded into Abu Dhabi from Al Ain of Ireland’s goal against Mexico – another header from defender Stephen Paisley. The abacuses were called for until, once again, the ground rocked to the blast of the German supporter’s megaphone. The lady in question, who had spent the previous match firing a verbal tirade of encouragement to the young Mannschaft, now picked up her instrument and urged the young yanks on. As things stood, another goal for the States would mean qualification for the Europeans. The drama was growing in Al Ain as Jesus Palacios and Darren Potter saw the first reds of the day for fighting a minute before half-time.
Meanwhile in Group D, Egypt, backed by another capacity crowd in Dubai, seemed to be content playing out a scoreless draw with Japan. But the Asians had not read the script and as the game approached its 80th minute, Tatsuya Yazawa released substitute Sota Hirayama to take the ball around Sherif Ekramy and slide into an empty net for Dubai’s first goal of the day. Japan were now in top spot of Group D.
Back in Abu Dhabi, Japan’s rivals Korea were rarely threatening the American goal but then again, the U.S. showed few sings of understanding German.
Despite consistent pressure on the Irish goal, Mexico’s dream was finally over as another Stephen, Kelly this time, grabbed a late second to the visible disappointment of Tricolores coach Eduardo Rergis banished to the stands half an hour earlier.
Almost simultaneously across the United Arab Emirates the whistle blew for full-time on the group stage with five of the six teams playing second living to fight another day.