With four nations from four different cultures, the group was always going to provide some fascinating style clashes. And so it proved with all the matches, except one - Colombia 4 : 1 Japan, going down to the wire. But on the final match day, in the jostle for positions, it was Asian honour that saw them to the top.
1. Japan 6 pts
Two second-half goals in 1-0 wins against England and Egypt were enough for Japan to pinch the group. Showing good technical ability, a solid defence and a coherent counter-attacking style, the Asians were good value for the victories. Daisuke Sakata, with his quick feet and fine footballing brain, impressed early on, while Tatsuya Yazawa, able to hit a dead ball and carve out an opening, sparkled later. In between, though, they were taken apart 4-1 by Colombia, hinting that Kiyoshi Ohkuma’s team may be susceptible to pacy forwards.
2. Colombia 5 pts
After convincing displays in their opening two matches, Colombia surrendered top spot thanks to a lacklustre display against England. The speed and movement up front of Edixon Perea and Erwin Carrillo along with the strength and shooting power of Victor Montano and Jaime Castrillon came to the fore in the 4-1 defeat of Japan and proved Reinaldo Rueda’s team do have the attacking cut and thrust to go along with the usual Cafetero “toque game”. But two goalless draws in the opening round still tells its own story.
3. Egypt 4 pts
Third in the previous edition at Argentina 2001 and backed by a huge local following, Egypt did not lack for motivation heading into the finals. And gradually they demonstrated they have a team capable of emulating and satisfying both. With his hands, body and feet, the giant Sherif Ekramy pulled off save after save until finally beaten with ten minutes to go against Japan for Egypt’s only loss. A smaller figure but equally huge in presence, Hosni Abd Rabo strolled around in the middle of the park as if he owned it. Shooting, tackling, passing and commanding, the young Pharaoh had it all. While secure in his defence, coach Hassan Shehata will be concerned about adding to their one goal scored so far.
4. England 1 pt
Unlike some other sides, the players who were not coming for England had been widely publicised before the finals began. In the event, coach Les Reed’s young crop showed they were not only ripe but still lacking the essential technical ability at this level. They were not helped by some relatively historic and worrying tactics that ranged from blasting kick-offs towards the corner flag and, at the end of matches, thrusting the centre-half as an attacker when all else, including the strikers, had failed. England have now gone nearly eight hours without a goal in world youth finals.