The city of Sharjah played host to the action and excitement provided by Argentina, Spain, Mali and Uzbekistan in this hard-fought and appealing Group B of the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003. FIFA.com takes a look back at a series of late winners, surprise come-backs and great games.
Argentina fit the bill
Hugo Tocalli's protégés were being tipped as hot favourites even before they touched down in the Gulf, and they have lived up to that billing. Looking stronger as the tournament goes on, the Argentinians are a professional outfit of quick-footed, quick-thinking thoroughbreds that have charged through the first stage with a 100 per cent record: played three, won three. No prizes for guessing who the surprise revelation of this team is: defender Leandro Fernández sits atop the leading goalscorers' table with three to his name so far. Also outstanding have been Walter Montillo, in midfield, and Fernando Cavenaghi, as generous with his team mates as he is lethal to the opposition. The results speak for themselves: 2-1 against Spain, 2-1 again over Uzbekistan and 3-1 against Mali. With the second stage around the corner, Tocalli had this to say: "We've accomplished our first goal. We can now move on to the second, which is to play the full seven games of the tournament."
Spain recover in time
Defeat at the hands of Argentina (1-2) in their first outing raised a sizeable question mark over Spain's true potential in this competition. However, José Ufarte appealed to his charges' sense of pride as European champions to inspire a turnaround and get through the tricky first stage. The class football in the boots of Andrés Iniesta, one to watch out for in the fast-approaching second round, plus the odd flash of brilliance from Sergio García were enough to ensure the Iberians comfortably dispatched Mali (2-0) and Uzbekistan (1-0): "We know any side we come up against now are not going to be easy, but we believe in ourselves," said Ufarte.
Mali, homeward bound
The Africans arrived in the Middle East with their sights set on upsetting the apple-cart among the Group B favourites and nabbing a place in the last 16. Sadly, it did not work out that way for Mali. Following a last-gasp victory over Uzbekistan in their opening game, Mamadou Coulibaly's boys needed at least one more point to stand a real chance of qualifying. However, both Spain (0-2) and Argentina (1-3) refused to cooperate and clipped the Eaglets wings. "We knew it was going to be no picnic, but did the best we could," the said coach after his side were bounced out of the tournament.
Bittersweet debut for plucky Uzbeks
Víktor Borisov's young Asian tigers were dealt a poor hand in their first-ever appearance in the competition. Not only because they were paired in their group with the champions of Europe and South America, but also because of what happened on the pitch. Their three defeats all came by a one-goal margin and two of them in the last minute of the match. The abiding memory must be the huge effort they made to hold out against Argentina, only for the South Americans to steal the tie with a penalty in time added-on (1-2). Ones to keep an eye on in the future are Alexander Geynrikh, Mansurjon Saidov and Ilyas Zytulayev. "We came here to represent Uzbek culture. Now people know what we're made of. Even though luck was against us, it was a fantastic experience," the coach concluded.