It took a last-minute goal and two extra-times but the final four line-up for UAE 2003 will involve the four favourites - Spain, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina - after a dramatic quarter-final night in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. While Brazil and Colombia coasted against Japan and hosts UAE, Spain struggled and Argentina squirmed versus Canada and the USA before finally making a semi-final foursome identical to that of the FIFA World U-17 Championship Finland 2003. The winners of Brazil-Argentina (Abu Dhabi) and Spain-Colombia (Dubai) on 15 December will meet for the world youth crown four days later.

Dubai, 18:00, Colombia 1-0 UAE
Everything was set for a spectacular occasion at the Rashid stadium in Dubai where the hosts UAE took on Colombia. Tickets could not be got for love nor money and thousands of unlucky souls were forced to pitch up in the dark outside the heavily lit ground where a giant screen was erected to catch some of the atmosphere of the historic occasion. The sheiks were out in full force along with a packed house dressed up in their white Kandora Friday best. And to top it off, a touz, or sand storm, had drifted into Dubai from the desert to make the locals feel even more at home.

But with everything prepared for a magical, memorable occasion, the party turned sour as Colombia made fine friends with the ball, while the Emirates’ talismanic figure, Ismail Matar, seemed lonely and isolated without it.

The only goal of the game, a fine low strike from Victor Montano, came early on. Backed by the mainly all-white crowd, the al abyadh huffed and puffed but could not get anywhere near the house that Hector Landazuri was guarding. Despite the slim winning margin, Colombia were so much in control that the only contest played out was that between the drum-beating colourful Colombians and the Ouwa-strumming, chanting locals. And when the home players took their bows sinking to the ground at the final whistle, Reinaldo Rueda’s men ran over to the pocket of Cafetero supporters to clap their appreciation.

Abu Dhabi 18:00, Canada 1-2 Spain (aet)
Meanwhile, 150 kilometres away out of the desert storm in Abu Dhabi, Europe’s only quarter-finalists Spain were made to sweat for a place in the final four by a combative Canadian side. Just like the Emirates, it all seemed to be over at the break with the Iberians coasting after Andres Iniesta’s second goal of the finals.

But Dale Mitchell’s North Americans never know when they are beaten and, backed by an appreciative crowd, they scraped their way back into the game thanks to their star scrapper Iain Hume. The Canuck, who plays for Tranmere Rovers in the English second division, has been a revelation in the finals and he notched his third goal of the tournament following a Vitolo mistake. Only the width of the post kept him from getting his fourth before Vitolo compounded his earlier error by earning his second yellow card and expulsion from a contest that was dramatically turning in Canada’s favour. But just when it seemed 10-man Spain were wilting, up popped substitute Arizmendi to break Canuck hearts and send the European favourites through.

Dubai 21:00, Japan 1-5 Brazil
One day Japan may become better at football than Brazil. Under the leadership of former selecao great Zico, the style-conscious Asian nation play an attractive brand of the game not dissimilar to that of the South Americans. But, based on this quarter-final, they still have some way to go before that day arrives.

razil, who had not scored a first-half goal all tournament, scored four times in 34 minutes. Perhaps stung by the words of their coach Paqueta, who claimed he could find 11 better players held back by their Brazilian clubs after some criticism of their relatively mediocre performances so far, the young selacao began the match in top gear. Daniel Carvalho twice, a free kick off the post and eight-yard finish after a defensive error, Kleber, twisting in the box after the defence failed to clear, and Nilmar, with a wickedly deflected shot, gleefully capitalised on naïve defending.

Backed by the shouts of “Nippon, Nippon” and the waving of small rising sun flags, Japan’s forwards tried manfully to save their defenders’ skins. Sota Hirayama headed a late consolation before Nilmar notched his second to send Kiyoshi Ohkuma’s men home with a little less honour than they had hoped. Five more goals, the highest so far in a low-scoring finals, comes painfully after the four they conceded against Colombia. Japan and Ohkuma will not want to meet South American sides again for a very long time.

Abu Dhabi 21:00, USA 1-2 Argentina (aet)
With two matches dramatically concluded in extra-time, the action was most certainly in Abu Dhabi on quarter-finals night. Few would have predicted what was later to happen though after a quickly forgettable first-half between the nations from America’s North and South. But with 20 minutes left, the game suddenly sprang into life as USA captain Bobby Convey converted to stun much of the 15,000 crowd at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium.

With 90 minutes up, it looked like Thomas Rongen’s compact and talented side had produced the shock of the day but reigning champions and four-time winners Argentina staged the latest of late comebacks. With the referee’s whistle on the way to his lips and his breath taken in, Javier Mascherano, who had done most to breathe fire into the hearts of the waning champions, got in around the back of the American defence to head in to the unadulterated joy of the crowd and Argentinian bench.

And once the ticker-tape was cleared, who else but albiceleste captain, Fernando Cavenaghi, struck home the 110th-minute penalty to spark even more emotional scenes and Argentinian tears as the champions survived the unexpectedly tough American duel to fight another day.