In one of the toughest groups of the finals, Germany, USA, Korea and Paraguay all finished up their second matches with three points apiece. Understandably, the last clash for each side proved a test of jangling nerves as the States finished in top spot with Paraguay taking second and Korea squeaking into the third. Germany however, had only tears for souvenirs after two disappointing losses and an atypically early exit.

Red White and Blue…and Adu too
The United States opened their account in absolutely smashing form, roaring back from an early one-goal deficit to thrash Paraguay 3-1. Striker Eddie Johnson looked in fine fettle as he scored one and set up the other two. But they stumbled in their next match with Germany, conceding three goals in a span of sixteen second-half minutes. And when 14-year-old sensation Freddy Adu entered the fray in minute 73, it was all over but for the shouting. They did manage to get one back through Zak Whitbread, but only for consolation’s sake. With a stiff upper lip and young Adu in from the start, the States stormed back to sink Korea in their final match thanks to two first-half penalties from in-form Johnson (2-0) to take top spot in a frightful Group F. “Our first goal was to get to the second round,” coach Thomas Rongen said. “And we did just that. We were always better when we played aggressively and I couldn’t be more proud of the boys.”

Only the one slip up for Paraguay
ed by Rolando Chilavert – brother of legendary goalkeeper Jose Luis – Paraguay were always looking to at least equal their semi-final run at Argentina 2001. But after letting a 1-0 lead slip away in their opener with the States, their ambitions took a dip. A foraging 1-0 win over Korea in their second thanks to another early goal – this time from Gilberto Velasquez – saw them back on track. And in their finest match of the first round, the South Americans rolled past Germany 2-0, leaving their opening-day demons behind. A fine performance from scorers Dante Lopez and Nelson Haedo Valdez proved the difference on the day. “We realised our first goal of reaching the second round,” Chilavert said. “We still have areas in which we can improve and we will look to do so in the next stage.”

Disciplined Korea cling to third
The Asian Champions came into the finals with high hopes and a formidable strike tandem in “twin towers” Kim Dong Hun and Jung Jo Gook. And after some unsteady early moments in their opener against Germany, they found their form and scored two on second half counter-attacks. The first came from Lee Ho Jin and the second, Lee Jong Min. With confidence soaring, the Taeguk Warriors had the rug pulled from under them when they met up with Paraguay. Up against a side with a similar sense of discipline and form, the Koreans were blanked 0-1 and their future looked uncertain. But knowing a 2-0 loss would put them through in their last match with the USA, they hung on only just to clinch a spot as one of the best third-place finishers. “We knew what we had to do in our final match,” said Korea coach Park Sun Wha. “We may not win any awards for our final performance, but we got the job done.”

b>Lacklustre Germany mislay their heritage
Germany boss Ulli Stielike – FIFA World Cup finalist and European champion – knows what it takes to win in the big competitions. But even before UAE 2003 got underway, the German boss was bemoaning his side’s lack of preparedness. Though some thought he was just being modest, the Mannschaft’s 0-2 loss to Korea in their opener seemed to lend credence to his pessimistic assessment. But bouncing back to smash the States with goals from Piotr Trochowsky, Robert Huth and Sebastian Kneissl (3-1), they looked to be back on track. Needing a win or a draw in their last match against Paraguay to be sure of anything, they struggled in decidedly un-Germanic fashion, losing out 0-2. Though they still had a chance to qualify, Korea were doing them no favours in the late match. Stieleke was brutally honest about his side’s performance. “You can not come to a competition like this without being fully prepared,” he said. “And we were not. We gave away goals like gifts and never played well.”