THE DAY REPLAYED – Two of the favourites for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2013 crown, Mexico and Argentina, gave clear statements of their intent in recording their first victories in the United Arab Emirates. Defending champions Mexico made amends for their heavy opening defeat against Nigeria, while Argentina moved top of their group following a draw on opening day.
The Nigerians, tipped by many to go all the way, may not have been as ruthless as they were previously, but they still showed their considerable firepower in a frenetic encounter with Sweden. The Europeans were twice in front during the match, but they had to settle for a point come the final whistle.
Group E - Dubai
Canada 1-1 Iran
Argentina 3-2 Austria
Group F – Al Ain
Mexico 3-1 Iraq
Sweden 3-3 Nigeria
Bird’s eye view
Shaqran, the tournament mascot, was not the only one to have an aerial view of proceedings in Al Ain during Mexico’s victory over Iraq. Somewhat surprisingly, a solitary man appeared at the summit of a mountain behind one of the stands in the first half at the Khalifa Bin Zayed stadium, enjoying a unique view of the match and witnessing from afar as Alejandro Diaz, Jose Almanza and Ulises Rivas fired Mexico to victory. Despite his vantage point, he was no doubt still unable to rival the famous Hawkeye technology used in various sports.
Canada went into their match with Iran in search of a win that would bring an end to a pair of unfavourable records. However, as against Austria in their opening fixture, the Canucks were held to a draw, their fourth consecutive stalemate at a U-17 World Cup - a run never before witnessed in the tournament’s history. It also extended the side’s win-less streak at the competition to 17 games, something only equalled in FIFA tournaments by Bulgaria (at FIFA World Cups™) and England (at FIFA U-20 World Cups).
For a side to make a substitution within the first half hour or so of a match is rare enough, but for both teams to do so is almost unheard of. Yet that is precisely what happened in Al Ain in the fixture between Sweden and Nigeria. With just 15 minutes on the clock, Sweden’s Isak Ssewankambo was forced off with injury. It was a bitter blow for the central midfielder with African roots, as he was playing his first match at the tournament. His replacement, Mirza Halvadzic, was rather more fortunate and went on to notch his side’s third goal. Meanwhile, in the 32nd minute, Nigeria striker Success Isaac, one of the early stars of the competition, also left the pitch with injury ten minutes after scoring one of the best goals so far.
European goalkeepers were not at their best this particular matchday. Sweden’s Sixten Mohlin failed in his attempt to block a shot from Musa Yahaya, allowing the ball through his legs to let Nigeria level the scores at 2-2 in the 48th minute. At almost exactly the same time in the game between Argentina and Austria in Dubai, Alexander Schlager conceded in similar fashion to hand the South Americans a 2-1 lead.
17 - While associated with bad luck in some countries, the number has, for the most part, been positive for Nigeria. The Africans’ 3-3 draw with Sweden was their 17th outing against European opposition at the tournament and results have largely gone in their favour, with ten wins, five draws and just two defeats to show for their efforts.
“I’m leaving as a happy man because we needed to win. The lads found the confidence once more and did what was required of them to ensure success. There were one or two shaky moments but I think the boys did a great job, they worked well throughout the match and fully deserved to win. Now we go up against Sweden and that’ll be a tough game against tall and dangerous players, so we’re going to have to prepare ourselves well for it,” Mexico coach Raul Gutierrez
Wednesday 23 October
Slovakia - United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi, 20:00)
Honduras - Brazil (Ras Al-Khaimah, 20:00)
New Zealand - Côte d'Ivoire (Abu Dhabi, 17:00)
Italy - Uruguay (Ras Al-Khaimah, 17:00)