At first glance, it appears that the two pre-tournament favourites, Argentina and Iran, came out on top in Group E of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 as expected, whilst supposed outsiders Canada and Austria both finished the group without a win. However, the final standings by no means tell the whole story.
Argentina, who have now featured in 12 of the 15 FIFA U-17 World Cup tournaments held to date, began their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Iran, before gaining momentum with a 3-2 victory over Austria and a 3-0 win against Canada.
In contrast, Iran were forced to wait until their third match for their first win. After their draw with the South American champions and a 1-1 stalemate against Canada, they finally edged a close encounter with Austria 1-0 to take second place in the group, in what is their third appearance at this tournament.
What is more, the fact that only one match in Group E was won by a margin of victory of more than one goal illustrates that the battle to reach the Round of 16 was closer and more exciting than the final table ultimately suggests.
Austria are also the only team at these U-17 World Cup finals to finish in last place in their group having won a point. The equilibrium within the group had particularly dire consequences for the Canadians, who ended up outside the four best third-placed teams, thus continuing their disappointing record at U-17 World Cup final tournaments.
The Canucks remain without a win in six appearances at the tournament, setting a new tournament record with a run of 14 defeats and four draws (a goal difference of 8 to 53).
1. Argentina, 7 pts
2. Iran, 5
3. Canada, 2
4. Austria, 1
Round of 16
Argentina - Tunisia (29 October, 20.00, Dubai)
Nigeria - Iran (29 October, 20.00, Al Ain City)
It was a moment that hardly anyone watching Canada’s match against Austria will have noticed. In the 53rd minute, Jordan Hamilton scored an equaliser to make it 1-1, ran to the corner flag, fell to his knees and raised both arms towards the heavens.
What very few people would have known is that at that moment, the thoughts of the Canuck striker were with his cousin, who recently passed away. “I dedicated that goal to him. I promised him I’d make it to the World Cup, and I did it, so that goal is for him,” Hamilton later explained to FIFA.com.
Although no Group E players currently feature in the tournament’s top 15 leading scorers, Argentinian forwards have shown occasional flashes of attacking brilliance. Joaquin Ibanez, Matias Sanchez (two goals each), Sebastian Driussi and Leonardo Suarez (one goal each) have given coach Humberto Grondona a wide range of striking options, which could prove particularly useful in the knockout stages.
Meanwhile, Alexander Schlager has been making a name for himself between the posts. Although the Austrian goalkeeper could not prevent his team from exiting the tournament after the group stage, he kept the European side’s hopes alive until the end. His dominance of the penalty area, good reflexes on the goal-line and the way he organises his defenders all suggest that a glittering career may lie ahead of him.
55 – The match between Iran and Argentina was less than a minute old when the ball first hit the back of the net. “I saw the ball, picked it up and just took a shot. I never believed it would end up in the goal,” said Mostafa Hashemi of his goal after 55 seconds – the fastest in the history of the tournament.
The birthday boy smashed the ball under the crossbar, striking it on the half-volley from some 25 metres out. “I was completely shocked and just froze. Then everyone ran over to me – the players, coaches and substitutes – and celebrated with me. It was unbelievable.”
“Canadian football is not normally known for its offensive qualities, but this team has some great attacking players. What we’ll take away from this is the fact that we managed to come back into matches after falling behind, first at the CONCACAF qualification tournament and then again here. It’s fantastic to see that kind of character from our players. We also scored some beautiful goals. Following and helping to shape the development of the entire team has certainly been one of the highlights of this experience,” Sean Fleming, Canada coach.