It took a golden goal from Brazil’s Dudu to see off Slovakia at the last sixteen stage of the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003 on Tuesday 9 December in Sharjah. The highly pragmatic Europeans gave an excellent account of themselves, causing the auriverdes problems until the end. But numerically disadvantaged during extra time, Peter Polak’s charges could carry the fight no more. Brazil, who displayed a commendable ability to bounce back, will face Japan in the quarter-final on 12 December in Dubai.

Clearly still smarting from the indignity of their final group match loss to Australia (2-3), the Brazilians took a while to get into their stride. The Slovaks, mindful of their outsider status, were also content to sit back. As a result, goalmouth action was at something of a premium.

But the territorial domination enjoyed by the Samba Boys meant the best chances began to fall their way. From a Daniel Carvalho corner, Kleber, left free at the far post, headed the ball straight back towards the penalty spot. Alcides Eduardo met it well, but his bullet header was cleared off the goal line by the Slovakian defence (10’).

Slowly but surely, Marcos Paqueta’s men were imposing their pattern on the tie. Kleber, at the heart of all their best moves, launched a counter-attack through the middle of the Slovak defence. Daniel Carvalho and Nilmar were queuing up to receive the ball, but in the end it was Nilmar whose partially blocked half-volley failed to trouble Peter Kostolani (25’).

Generally content to cede possession without being punished, the Slovaks even indulged in a couple of offensive forays in the run-up to the interval. Captain Marian Kurty, back after a bout of flu, hit a good shot that Jefferson, deputising for Fernando Henrique in the Seleçao goal, was grateful to smother (35’). The Botafogo keeper was then called upon to turn away a crisp strike from Roman Konecny (40’).

Upon returning from the changing rooms, normal service was resumed by the Seleçao. Kleber embarked on a mazy run through the Slovak defence before releasing a well-struck low shot, but Kostolany saved well (50’). The Slovak keeper was equally decisive minutes later; when left horribly exposed after a mistake by Milos Brezinsky, he beat away Kleber’s shot (53’) just as a goal seemed inevitable.

But all storms recede eventually, and soon the Slovaks came back with a vengeance. A corner from Juraj Halenar picked out striker Filip Sebo, who had just entered the fray. Totally unmarked, he made no mistake with his header (0-1, 60’) to open the scoring against the run of play.

The auriverdes were stunned, but quickly regrouped to pile on the pressure. Daniel Carvalho escaped down the left and centred towards the penalty spot. Dagoberto, who had just come on, managed to make contact but his shot sailed wide (69’). Then Kleber sprang the offside trap to earn another duel with Kostolani, but again the big keeper was quick off the blocks to stifle the danger (73’).

Paqueta’s boys maintained their forward momentum and their persistence eventually paid off. Dudu accepted a neat pass about sixteen yards out, swerved to take out a defender and unleashed a powerful shot. This time, even Kostolani was left clawing at fresh air and Brazil were level (1-1, 82’). With Slovakia at a low ebb, the Seleçao sought to take advantage and snatch the tie at the death. Dagoberto came mighty close to doing just that when his miss-hit volley looped over the Slovak keeper, but Marek Cech was on hand to make a desperate clearance, which rebounded off the crossbar and struck the post before rolling to safety (84’).

The Brazilians were in the ascendant and so was the tension. In added time, Kamil Kopunek was dismissed for a tackle from behind. “The sending off was a turning point. Playing against Brazil is difficult enough without being down to 10 men,” Peter Polak acknowledged ruefully after the tie. Extra time kicked off with 11 against 10, and South American dominance was growing exponentially. Dudu struck another fine shot that Kostolani managed to block (94’). Moments later, after playing a smart one-two, the same player found himself one on one with the keeper and promptly scored to send his side into the quarter-final (2-1, 95’). The numerous Brazilian supporters erupted with joy, as did many of the locals, the vast majority of whom had aligned themselves with the Seleçao.

It was a highly satisfying win for Paqueta, who revealed the special preparations he had made for the game: “Our opponents were brave and it was an open game. Before the match, we gave the players a message from their parents, which boosted their motivation and confidence. It helped them to focus.”

As for Polak, he could not contain his disappointment, but neither could he hide his pride in his young colts: “We were well prepared. We knew how strong they were in midfield, and succeeded in keeping it tight in that area, but a minor error five minutes from time put paid to all our good work…”